MACHIAS, Maine — The first budget session for the 2011-2012 fiscal year began Wednesday night with a plea for a new ambulance.
Ambulance Director Lois Libby said that one Machias ambulance is 11 years old and the other is 16 years old. With age come failures, she pointed out.
“The last two weeks have been a calamity for us,” Libby told selectmen and three members of the town’s budget committee.
“The wheels fell off it in Bangor,” she said, referring to the oldest ambulance. The crew was completing a transfer from Down East Community Hospital to a Bangor hospital when the studs used to attach one wheel to the vehicle broke.
“We have to think about doing something,” Libby said.
Town Manager Chris Loughlin explained that when the town’s ambulance was demolished in a serious accident during a snowstorm in 2008, the insurance money was used to purchase a used vehicle.
“But it hadn’t been used in some time,” he said and there have been many maintenance problems. “It spends an awful lot of time not making it to where it’s supposed to go,” he said.
Loughlin said that the oldest ambulance, the one purchased in 2008, is used as backup and typically is the one used to transfer patients to Bangor.
“It looked like it was going to work, but it is clearly not doing the job,” he said.
For the fiscal year 2010-2011, which ends in June, more than $6,000 already has been spent in maintenance of the two aged ambulances.
For 11 years, the town has appropriated $9,000 a year into a capital reserve fund to buy a new ambulance, but some years have been so hard financially, town officials admitted, that the money may have been used elsewhere. As of this week, the account contains just $44,500 for a new vehicle, rather than the $99,000 that it could have had if left untouched.
The issue of a new ambulance purchase was not discussed Wednesday night because Loughlin said the issue would resurface when the committee and the selectmen deal with capital and reserve accounts. Those budgets are scheduled to be reviewed beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 30.
“We may have to take what we have for funds in-hand and possibly borrow the rest,” Loughlin said. “The question is whether we purchase it this year or next.”
The ambulance budget was accepted at $303,554, which is $51,894 less than the existing budget, representing a 15 percent decrease.
The Fire Department budget, presented by Fire Chief Joseph Dennison, was accepted at $192,803. Last year, Dennison was able to return $20,000 in surplus to the general fund, he said.
Dennison reduced the equipment, uniform, turnout gear, volunteer stipends, training and part-time position lines of his budget. He told the committee that he had saved the town between $40,000 and $50,000 by building his own cascade system, the system for refilling self-contained breathing tanks.
“I got bits and pieces from other departments that had received grants for new systems,” Dennison said. The system has passed the state air tests, he said, but cannot be fully certified until a “crash box” is installed. Dennison explained that such a box is a safety feature that surrounds tanks as they are being filled to minimize injury if a tank explodes.
Dennison said he approached the Down East Correctional Facility welding shop to see whether the box could be constructed there, but it could not. He said he has found only one manufacturer for the boxes. The cost will be $800, and he said he would come before the selectmen at their next meeting to get that purchase approved. The purchase will come out of the 2010-2011 budget.
The Public Safety Building, which houses the police and fire departments and the ambulances, also was discussed. Loughlin said there is a severe roof problem over the police department, which surfaced last summer.
“We need to replace part of that roof,” he said. One of the selectmen suggested using prison labor. The roof is 21 years old, Loughlin said.
Loughlin said that throughout this year’s budget, insurance, fuel costs and labor will be increased. Every seven years, he said, there are 53 paydays in a year, and 2011 is one of those years.
The next budget review will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 23, after a regularly scheduled selectmen’s meeting at the town office.