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Goffstown selectmen debate need for new forestry vehicle

GOFFSTOWN — The Board of Selectmen’s budget was scrutinized at the Jan. 9 Budget Committee meeting, with a heated discussion over the need for a new fire department forestry vehicle.

The committee was unable to finalize the town’s budget at the meeting, as members did not have adjustment amount totals.

The selectmen’s proposed $20.2 million operating budget, the school district’s $36.3 million budget, and the Goffstown Village and Grasmere Village water districts’ budgets will be presented at a public hearing on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Goffstown High School.

In addition, a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. will feature a discussion on several special warrant articles, including the proposed $4.5 million fire station improvement plan with construction costs, design fees, furnishings, equipment and contingency. The snow date for the public hearing is Tuesday, Jan. 21.

At the Jan. 9 meeting, Vice Chairman Guy Caron sat in for Chairman Peter Georgantas, who attended the meeting via Skype.

Caron made a motion to reduce the forestry truck line item from $95,000 to zero.

He said even though the current 1968 Jeep forestry truck is old and doesn’t drive very fast, it passes state inspection, has good tires and the lights work.

“I’m having a hard time justifying replacing a vehicle when we’ve already bought a vehicle to replace this one and it was redirected to some other duties,” Caron said.

Several members spoke in opposition to the motion, including Mark Lemay. As a firefighter, he said, he drives the 1968 truck and the brakes are in poor condition, the heating system fails and it passes inspection “marginally.” The wipers are faulty, and firefighters have to manually operate them by putting their arms out the window.

“I think you will do us an injustice by keeping it,” Lemay said.

Fire Chief Richard O’Brien had recommended $130,000 for a new forestry truck, but the selectmen reduced that to $95,000. O’Brien said the 1968 truck is unreliable, unsafe and needs constant repairs. He characterized the expense as a need rather than a wish list. The replacement vehicle referred to by Caron had been purchased 11 years ago, and was needed for other purposes such as medical emergency responses.

“I don’t think you can retrofit that vehicle anymore,” he said. “The most cost-effective solution is to get the vehicle we need. It gets rid of an unsafe vehicle, gets us the pump and tank that we need, and gets us a vehicle we can use 24/7, 365 days.”

Selectmen Chairman Collis Adams said the board decided that a new truck could be used for emergency operations as well.

“In this day and age when we’re seeing more frequent and intense storm events and more wash outs, this is a vehicle that can be used to get to those areas in town that are isolated because of these incidents,” he said.

Committee member Ruth Gage said she lives within 50 feet of woodland and would feel safer if the town had a reliable forestry truck. Joe Spoerl said he feels it’s important for firefighters to be able to get to those woodland areas. Elizabeth Dubrulle said she was not interested in repairing the vehicle. Shea Sennett also supported buying a new truck.

“Just because it passes inspection, we may not want to put people’s lives in jeopardy,” Sennett said.

Richard Fletcher made a motion to increase the forestry truck line item back to $130,000, but it failed. However, Caron’s original motion not to purchase the vehicle also failed, and the $95,000 expenditure will be presented at the public hearing.

Increasing the salt budget was also discussed at the meeting, but a motion failed. The Public Works Department’s allocation had been reduced from $152,695 to $135,000. Director Carl Quiram had requested reinstating the original amount because he wanted to be able to satisfy the needs of the town in case of a harsh winter.

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