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East Spencer fire, police departments request budget funds for personnel, vehicles, equipment

EAST SPENCER — Both the East Spencer police and fire departments pleaded for increases in their budgets to cover the costs of personnel, vehicles and equipment during the first of a series of budget sessions Monday night.

Police Chief Sharon Hovis said in order to retain officers, they need to get more than a pat on the back and a thank you from the Board of Aldermen.

“That’s not going to hold them. We have to pay them,” Hovis said.

Town Administrator F.E. Isenhour said he thinks East Spencer officers are underpaid based on their experience.

Hovis asked that at the very least, the town add $1 to $2 more per hour to each officer’s salary.

In her $485,714 police budget, Hovis proposed leasing four police cars at a cost of $38,458 for three years, or $12,819.36 a year. She said the department needs vehicles but it’s just not cost-effective to buy vehicles that are no good once they are paid off.

She cited a Chevrolet Impala that has a fried electrical system. It was paid off last July but essentially can’t be used.

From July through mid-April, the Police Department spent $15,000 on vehicle repairs. Hovis estimates every other month, her department spends between $2,000 to $3,000 on maintenance of vehicles.

Hovis also requested two rugged laptops to replace two that are inoperable. The laptops will cost $2,793.92. She said the department has been “getting by” with what it has.

She said what she’s requesting is a drop in the bucket of what the department really needs.

Fire Chief Shawn McBride was teaching a class, so Assistant Chief Teon Robinson presented the department’s requests to the board.

Robinson said the department has already built in the cost of a new firetruck. The board approved the purchase of a 2018 Spartan S-180 at an April 17 meeting. The purchase will require a 15-year loan at a total cost of $428,000, or $36,509 in annual installments.

That purchase also means a possible 3-cent property tax increase.

Robinson said other than the new firetruck, a large amount of the fire department’s budget is to cover the cost of personnel and equipment.

The department has a “bunk-in” program in which firefighters spend the night at the station. If there is a call, that firefighter is the first on the scene. Each bunk-in participant receives a stipend. There are four people every day at the station through this program, costing the department $100 a day.

In the Fire Department’s $267,126 budget, Robinson requested $36,500 for the volunteer stipend. He said it essentially means quicker response instead of the 15 minutes it would take a volunteer to arrive at the firehouse after receiving an initial page for a fire call.

He said it’s cheaper than paying a full-time firefighter. The cost is $25 each for a 12-hour shift.

“Some would say it’s a lot of money, but we don’t put a dollar amount on a life,” Robinson said.

Robinson said firefighters now complete reports by hand, but for a one-time payment of $2,500 plus a $750 yearly fee, the department could have emergency reporting software.

Robinson said the cost to outfit firefighters is increasing. He said the department wants all the firefighters to have the same type of uniform, which includes a white T-shirt and simplified badges. He said they also need turnout gear because they currently use some provided by the Salisbury Fire Department.

“Now we need five sets of turnout gear. Three people use gear from Salisbury. We can’t put anyone else on our roster because we don’t have gear to put them in,” he said.

The cost of two sets of turnout gear is $4,200.

Robinson said the new firetruck will come empty and before it rolls out, the town will need to purchase additional equipment including hoses. Board members asked why that cost couldn’t have been tacked onto the cost of the truck; Robinson said fire officials wanted to keep the payments as low as possible.

The truck will be sent away to have brackets, lettering and other elements added. Robinson said he expects the truck to be returned by mid-May but estimated the truck won’t be fully ready to use for fire calls until July.

He said things like adding equipment just take time.

Hoses for the truck cost $1,600 a piece. For now, he said, the department can borrow from another truck, but at some point, the new truck will need all its own equipment.

He said they hope to apply for grants, but the reality is the town will likely have to match a portion of any grants.

The board members listened and asked questions about the fund requests and made no decisions.

The board will meet for another budget meeting at the close of its regularly scheduled meeting at 6:30 p.m. May 7. The meeting will be held at Town Hall, 105 S. Long St.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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