China Grove focuses on firetruck in budget session

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, April 14, 2015

CHINA GROVE — Fire Department needs quickly grabbed the town board’s attention Monday during a budget work session where department heads presented proposals for the coming budget year.

Among the needs mentioned by interim China Grove Fire Chief Mike Zimmerman were a new firetruck at an estimated cost of $675,000, new air packs for firefighters and an air compressor to be installed in the department. Zimmerman said a new firetruck is needed because China Grove’s current tanker truck violates several safety standards. The tanker truck, for example, requires a longer braking distance than recommended at 20 mph and 50 mph, Zimmerman said. The tanker truck should stop within 175 feet at a speed of 50 mph, but requires 205 feet to stop, he said.

The truck’s brake system is subpar and it easily exceeds weight limits when fully loaded because of the way the vehicle was constructed, Zimmerman said. He removed the truck from active service a few months after taking over as interim chief late last year.

“There have been a lot of concerns from firefighters,” Zimmerman said. “They were scared of it. They were afraid to drive it. And, I even heard one call it the bone shaker.”

He said the truck was delivered to the China Grove department with a lower total weight capacity than documents stated and the truck’s manufacturer is out of business.

His estimated price — $675,000 — was for a new truck. He recommended the town board not look at buying a used truck because of the age of another vehicle in the town’s fire department fleet.

During Zimmerman’s presentation to the town board, he also recommended looking at the purchase of air packs for firefighters — a total cost of about $166,000.

He suggested buying an air compressor, which would be installed centrally in the fire department. The department, Zimmerman said, doesn’t own a centrally located compressor, which could be used to inflate the tires of trucks.

With the cost of an air compressor being about $9,000, according to Zimmerman, Mayor Don Bringle said it would be one of the easier items to include in the town’s fiscal year 2015-2016 budget.

For every department, including fire, the town board asked about staffing levels and pay rates. Zimmerman said the staffing levels were good at a total of 24 firefighters — volunteer and full-time — and the pay rate was comparable to Bostian Heights, where Zimmerman is the full-time chief. Mayor Pro-tem Lee Withers said the two fire departments should have equal pay scales because of the town’s efforts to merge the two.

Zimmerman said he preferred to wait until the summer to begin more in-depth conversation about merging the China Grove and Bostian Heights fire districts.

Multiple members of the town board and Town Manager Ken Deal praised Zimmerman for leading the China Grove fire department in an interim role.

“In the short time that Mike’s been here, it’s been great for me,” Deal said. “I’ve seen so many improvements with staff reports, just everything. It’s been a blessing.”

Other presentations included public works, police and a revenue overview from Finance Director Mary Jo Bopp.

• Police Chief Eddie Kluttz stressed during his presentation that the department’s current facility on Swink Street is in need of significant structural repairs. He joked that at some point the building might slide down a nearby hill frequently used by area children for snow sledding.

He also requested two new police cars, computers and software.

His requests could be supplemented by a Governor’s Crime Commission Grant — more than $40,000. The city would pay about $10,000 in addition to the grant.

Kluttz said the police department had submitted for the grant, but wouldn’t know if the department’s application was successful until May or early June.

Bringle brought up the idea of buying body cameras for police officers. Kluttz agreed that body cameras would be a good idea.

“Spending a couple thousand could pay for itself in one lawsuit,” Kluttz said.

• During Bopp’s presentation, she said 102 percent of the town’s budgeted ad-valorem tax revenues had been collected. She said the town’s fund balance was 66 percent, 1 percent above the Local Government Commission’s recommended amount for a town of China Grove’s size and well above the required 8 percent minimum.

She said overall the town had brought in more money as of Monday than what had been budgeted.

During her presentation, the town board contemplated a bill that’s pending in the N.C. General Assembly. The bill would redistribute sales tax revenue based on population, helping Rowan County but hurting every municipality in Rowan. Withers took a jab at State Rep. Carl Ford, R-76, joking that the town board should implement a radio station tax if the bill passes.

• During his presentation, Public Works Director David Ketner gave an overview of his department’s vehicles.

Ketner didn’t request any new vehicles for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

Councilman Brandon Linn proposed a pay increase for members of the town’s Public Works Department.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.