Whether to buy a new ladder truck for the Ketchikan Fire Department was a lengthy discussion topic during Monday’s Ketchikan City Council special budget meeting. The council also talked about rate increases for Ketchikan Public Utilities electric and water customers.
The fire department’s ladder truck is 20 years old, and Fire Chief Abner Hoage told the council that national standards call for replacement after 20 years.
But, Council Member Mark Flora said the truck seems to be in good shape with only minor electrical issues so far. He stressed that he in no way wants to compromise safety, but, “we’ve got a vehicle with 9,800 miles on it and 369 hours on the meter… This thing is going an average of 1.6 hours a month, 516 miles a year. That’s pretty nominal use.”
Flora questioned the need to spend up to a million dollars to replace the ladder truck. He said he looked into refurbishing the current vehicle, and that would cost closer to $400,000. But, Flora said it likely doesn’t even need that right now.
Fire Chief Hoage responded that while the current vehicle is in good shape, it’s the only ladder truck on the island, and it would take about six months to get a new one here. If it fails, he said, the department’s ability to respond to fires would be affected.
Hoage said following the replacement cycle is not required, but it is recommended.
“Should someone get injured or we’re not able to rescue someone due to equipment failure, it’s a defensible standard and it helps limit our liability,” he said. “But it’s not a hard rule.”
The council talked more about potentially refurbishing various vehicles rather than replacing them, including the ladder truck.
But, refurbishing the ladder truck would mean the city would have to lease a temporary replacement. Hoage reminded the council that this is the third year the ladder truck has been a point of discussion during budget time, and decisions so far have been delayed.
“We have an aging fleet of apparatus. If we continue to push them off, we’re going to have multiple apparatus that absolutely have to be replaced at the same time,” he said. “You’re going to be stuck with over a million-dollar bill to pay for that. I would just recommend that in the long-term, we come up with a plan to fund apparatus replacement long-term.”
The council opted to leave funds for replacement of the ladder truck in the budget. But there was general agreement that the city should hire a consultant to assess the fleet. That way, the city would know which vehicles are good candidates for refurbishing and which need complete replacement.
The council also reviewed the Ketchikan Public Utilities draft budget. City and KPU Manager Karl Amylon told the council that KPU’s electric and water divisions continue to operate at a loss. Telecommunications can’t continue to subsidize them, he said, which is why he included rate increases in the draft budget.
“Each utility has got to start pulling its own weight. Rates have to go up,” he said. “We can’t continue to rely on reserves to carry the day because the operating losses of the last five years are real. That’s the message that we want to try to convey to you tonight in the strongest way we can.”
The draft budget calls for a 5-percent electric rate increase, and 5.5 percent for water.
The council did not vote to change those rate increases on Monday, although Mayor Lew Williams III said he’d like to see spending cuts in the electric division rather than a rate hike.
There’s still a little time for the council to make changes – the budgets must be adopted by the end of the year.
The council reviewed the entire KPU draft budget on Monday, so Thursday’s special budget meeting was canceled. Any amendments to the city and KPU budgets will be considered during the council’s regular Dec. 21st meeting. The council also is likely to adopt both budgets that night.
This report has been edited to make a clarification.