MOUNT AIRY, N.C. --
Mount Airy’s commissioners gave unanimous approval Thursday night for buying a $759,000 aerial fire truck, but not without some heated words for Northern Hospital of Surry County from one official.
Commissioner Jon Cawley said it was regrettable no funding support for the ladder truck had come from the hospital, which is one location frequently cited as a place where such equipment might be needed due to its multiple stories. Larger lodging establishments also have been mentioned.
In June, the commissioners had voted to send Northern Hospital of Surry County a letter asking it to contribute toward the purchase of the vehicle. It is needed because the city fire department’s present aerial truck has hydraulic and other problems that have made it unsafe to use.
“We approached them with what I thought was a creative, out-of-the-box concept to help fund this,” Cawley related Thursday night. It involved adding a surcharge of $1 per patient each day to hospital bills.
Cawley added Thursday night that this charge would have applied only to money actually collected by NHSC rather than just billed. It would have generated about $100,000 per year, he said.
“And they rejected that idea,” Cawley said of hospital officials. The reason given was that the surcharge would have been imposed on patients from areas outside Mount Airy and bring possible repercussions, according to Thursday’s discussion.
Todd Harris also said he was surprised that the hospital rejected the plan. “I would have thought it would have gotten some traction.”
Cawley said that rather than heap the fire truck expense on the backs of citizens, city officials had worked behind the scenes to try to find ways of paying for it “without costing taxpayers any money.”
In addition to the proposed hospital surcharge, those efforts included seeking a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was denied. The grant would have provided 95 percent of the vehicle’s cost.
Cawley mentioned how such efforts illustrated that city leaders were willing to explore mechanisms other that just pulling money from the municipal budget. And he said the issue shows that it’s important for local entities such as Northern Hospital to also “change their way of thinking.”
The hospital doesn’t pay property taxes as businesses do, it was pointed out Thursday night.
Program Aids Purchase
When the federal grant and other options for the truck fell through, city officials ended up earmarking money from the municipality’s fund balance.
However, Mount Airy did get somewhat of a financial break by acquiring the truck through a “competitive group purchasing” program. State law normally requires a city to undergo a formal competitive bid process for equipment costing more than $90,000.
Such a process poses many administrative costs to a locality, including time spent preparing specifications and other tasks.
There is an exception to the law that allows group purchasing for equipment such as an aerial truck. Such an arrangement is defined by state statute as an “organized program that offers competitively obtained purchasing services at discount prices to two or more public agencies.”
Research by Fire Chief Zane Poindexter turned up such a program, the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC), based in Texas.
“It is legal,” said City Attorney Hugh Campbell, who reviewed the program before it was presented to the board Thursday night. The program was defined as a kind of “Sam’s Club” for fire and other equipment.
The only cost involved is a $2,000 processing fee, which in this case was charged to the dealer selling Mount Airy the truck.
Board members approved the use of the Houston-Galveston Area Council group-purchasing program Thursday night before voting to actually buy the truck.
Poindexter said the city’s relationship with H-GAC will allow it to possibly save money on other equipment in the future, not just for the fire department but public works, parks and recreation and other municipal operations.
“The city can use this for many, many items,” the fire chief said.
Campbell said Poindexter was to be commended for identifying the H-GAC plan, which is not universally known about although it is used by other localities in North Carolina including Winston-Salem and Durham.
The aerial truck being acquired is a 2009 demonstrator model with less than 20,000 miles.
“We felt like the truck was … the best value for the city,” Poindexter said during a presentation Thursday night. When first built, the vehicle cost $1 million.
The 100-foot platform truck was brought here and thoroughly tested in August as part of a search process that involved weighing seven different proposals from aerial truck manufacturers. It has never been owned by any other fire department, with its mileage accumulated through travel to various fire truck expositions.
Poindexter assured the commissioners that the vehicle comes with an adequate warranty package.
In response to a question from Mayor Deborah Cochran, the fire chief said not having an operable ladder truck available in an emergency had kept him awake at night.
Another unanimous vote Thursday night by the commissioners drew applause: a decision to repave streets in the Hollyview Forest community which were disturbed by the 2007 annexation of that area.
“We hope to actually start next week,” city Public Services Director Jeff Boyles said.
Residents of Hollyview Forest had complained about delays in getting their neighborhood back in order after disruptions caused by the annexation. A frequently cited issue was streets torn up through the installation of city sewer lines and being left in rough condition.
There were fears that those streets might not be repaved until 2012, especially with a change in the schedule for disbursement of state Powell Bill funds to municipalities. Powell Bill money, from gasoline taxes, is used by Mount Airy for improvements of city-maintained streets including repaving and sidewalk work.
However, savings have been realized in existing funds from that source which allowed more money being available for the repaving than was anticipated. This will mean the work can progress soon, rather than after Oct. 1 when the next state allocation was expected.
“We’re ready to roll,” Boyles said.
The board voted to award the $261,080 paving contract to Carl Rose & Sons of Elkin, the lowest of four bidders for the job.
Boyles said that cost is less than what the city expected to pay. “We came in quite a bit under,” the public services official said. “It was a good time to bid projects out,” he added of a general slowdown in the construction industry.
The job will include placing about 3,175 tons of asphalt on Pineview Drive, Williamson Avenue, Valleydale Drive, Brook Avenue, Glenn Court, Apollo Drive and Apollo Court.
One Pineview Drive resident especially elated by Thursday night’s action was Shirley Brinkley, who had approached city officials about the need for repaving several times.
“I’d just like to thank all the commissioners and Jeff Boyles,” said Brinkley, who is a commissioner candidate in this year’s municipal election. “We’ve been at it a few times,” she acknowledged, but added that officials responded well to the issue.
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