Ellsworth is preparing to buy two new snow plows, a new vacuum street sweeper and a new rescue truck for the fire department.
The City Council voted Monday to borrow more than $3 million from KeyBank to pay for those trucks and other equipment.
The city expects to pay $550,000 for the new rescue truck, $344,000 for the two new snow plow trucks, $235,000 for the new vacuum street sweeper and $208,000 to upgrade the police department’s radio communications system.
The city also plans to use some of the funds for an expected $1.3 million upgrade at its Water Street pump station, and to use $25,000 to upgrade Alexis Way off Bucksport Road, a former private road that the city has accepted as a public street.
The council voted unanimously to borrow up to $3.14 million over the next two years from KeyBank at an interest rate of 1.73 percent. The city plans to repay the money by raising $1.6 million of the sum from property taxes and $1.5 million from user fees paid by customers of the city’s water department, according to Deputy City Manager Tammy Mote.
Michelle Kaplan, who was elected to the council earlier this month, asked Monday why the city doesn’t save up for the expenses ahead of time, instead of taking out a loan. In response, longtime City Councilor John Phillips said that by using a bond to help pay for the equipment, it lessens the impact on the taxpayer by spreading the loan repayment out over several years, instead of raising the money through taxes and paying it all at once.
Mote told the council in October that city department heads have requested many of the items on the list for a few years, but prior councils have cut them from the budget in an effort to reduce the impact on taxes. But such purchases can only be put off for so long before an old piece of equipment fails, which often means the city has to pay more to replace it quickly than it would if it had planned out the purchase in the city budget.
“A lot of these costs kept getting cut from the budget and kicked down the road,” Mote said, but they can’t be put off anymore without risking a costly equipment failure.
Sgt. Shawn Willey of the city’s police department echoed Mote’s urgency Monday night about upgrading the department’s radio communications system. He told the council parts of the system are old and have failed in recent years.
An upgrade will improve the system so that the officers’ hand-held units will work inside places where they don’t now, such as in the city’s schools off State Street and inside Northern Light Health Maine Coast Hospital on Union Street, he said.
“Communications equipment [typically] has a 10-year lifespan and we’ve pushed this for about 30 years,” Willey said.