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Bedford officials make their case for new fire substation

BEDFORD — In response to increased call volume and growing population, voters in March will be asked to approve a $4 million bond to construct and outfit a fire department substation.

If voters approve the bond, the council will budget for three additional firefighters to staff the substation beginning in 2015, said Town Manager Jessie Levine. The tax impact for the 10-year bond would result in a tax rate increase of 26 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, or $105 per year for the owner of a property assessed at $400,000, beginning in 2016.

For 2014, the tax rate would increase 5 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, due to purchasing the site, a new ambulance and staffing. The tax rate in 2015 would increase 24 cents per $1,000 assessed value.

“2016 would be the first full year of staffing, operating costs and bond payments,” she said.

Levine and Fire Chief Scott Wiggin returned to the council’s Oct. 9 meeting with more information, resulting in the council’s recommendation. The proposed substation would be built along South River Road; the exact location will not be disclosed until purchase negotiations are completed.

Levine hit on five points to justify the need for a proposed second fire station:

• The town’s population has grown by about 2,929 people from 2000-10, but 47 percent of that growth is in the South River Road corridor.

• The call volume has increased by 40 percent, with emergency response increasing by 400 to 500 percent.

• The South River Road area takes up 8 percent of the town’s land mass, but requires 40 percent of call volume.

• The amount of commercial and multi-family developments have increased from 1991 to present, with the redevelopment of the former Wayfarer Inn property pending.

• The response to the remaining 92 percent of Bedford is impacted by the amount of time dedicated to the South River Road area, Levine said.

The council was presented two scenarios. One was bonding $3.8 to $4 million with reappropriating an infrastructure bond to facilities needs. The second scenario was holding $2.4 million from infrastructure bond and bonding the remaining $1.5 million.

The council chose to authorize $288,000 to be spent from its land fund and the remainder from the infrastructure bond, said Levine. The purchase of a new ambulance is scheduled to appear in the 2014 operating budget. On Oct. 23, Levine said she will be asking the council to reallocate the infrastructure bond funds that were set aside for the substation for facilities and roads.

The breakdown includes $600,000 for site acquisition; $450,000 site and off-site improvements; $3 million for building construction; $240,000 for architect fees; $115,000 for furniture, computers and equipment; and $95,000 for keeping ambulance 2 in service. Staffing and building operating costs would cost about $300,000 per year.

“Scott Wiggin and I are discussing how to approach the third ambulance, but the council in essence supported the addition of a third ambulance in conjunction with the substation,” she said after the meeting.

Wiggin is recommending three full-time fire personnel and one transferred from the main station on Route 101. The substation would have two firefighters/EMTs staffed at the substation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“That would allow the main station to be adequately staffed and then the substation could be staffed with an ambulance during the day,” said Levine.

In 1980, there were 217 fire calls and 264 calls for emergency services, as compared to 620 fire calls and 1,376 EMS calls in 2010, town-wide. From 2004 to 2012, ambulance calls to the South River Road area increased from 272 to 882.

Wiggin said the need for a third ambulance and a substation is evident, as call volumes continue to grow. About 17 percent of the time a second call comes in, and a third call now requires the help of mutual aid services, which could take about 11 minutes or more in response time.

“The end of September (2013), we were 13 percent ahead of last year’s call volume and we still have a quarter-year to go,” he said.

Wiggin said the National Fire Protection Agency requires an ambulance arrival time within five minutes and fire response within eight minutes. The town usually meets the standards for EMS response in about 50 percent of the time and 85 percent of the time for fire, including time leaving the station.

“The call volume may not be overwhelming, but it’s the back-to-back calls that get us in trouble,” he said. “If we can take the peaks and valleys out and have a level playing field it would not be in such high demand. The back-to-back just depletes our resources and you need not just the ambulance but the personnel.”

Bedford taxpayers currently pay 75 cents per $1,000 property valuation annually for fire and emergency services, including fire department budget items. These amounts take into consideration the revenue the town receives from ambulance calls, which is roughly $700,000 to $800,000 per year, Wiggin said.

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