Editor's note: The following post is by 6th District Councilman Dave Fuller, who is seeking re-election in the upcoming election.
Security and public safety are, without a doubt, the most fundamental duties of government. Without safety, there is no possibility of preserving liberty. Our first responders provide a necessary and extremely difficult task of keeping us safe from crime, fire and helping us when we have accidents or medical emergencies. They place their lives at risk to serve us. I humbly thank them for their sacrifice and their duty.
However, the banner of public safety cannot be a carte blanche check that spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars into services without consideration of the financial burden placed on residents or whether certain pieces of equipment, staff, and other high priced items actually make these first responder services more efficient.
Enter the recent bid for the new demo fire truck. For several months, members of the Town Council and the public were told by the Stratford Fire Department that procuring this truck is an emergency. The fire department even touted how it placed over 300 man hours into researching potential bids.
But nearly at the 11th hour, the acting chief informed the Council, right before a vote on the item, that the truck cannot fit under certain underpasses. If that is true, then why was this major detail overlooked for that long? In short, if we assumed the fire truck was an emergency buy, we would have placed $550,000 plus interest in bonding, or debt, to the taxpayer, while the truck may not be up to standards. Even in my inquiry to the acting chief whether this particular truck is of absolute need, he claimed that he was “not married to it.”
We trust town departments to provide the Mayor, Town Council, the press, and the public with factual and objective information. The case with this fire truck raises serious questions as to whether this need is an emergency, or whether if searching for other trucks is what is in the best interest of the fire department and the town.
It also raises questions as to the standards at this department regarding routine maintenance that prolongs the life of our equipment. It seems that this town has a habit of buying expensive equipment and then running it into the ground. This has to change and change now, with more detailed and documented maintenance schedules.
Overtime must also be addressed to reign in waste at the fire department, as with all town departments. What makes this department particularly of note is the amount of overtime paid out in recent years, and the rate of increase. Management must have more detailed documentation on how overtime is allocated, how much is allocated, why it is allocated, and how it is authorized.
Documentation will help identify key areas where reform is needed and guide what solutions should be implemented. Any abuses should be met with stringent reprimands. In a time where taxpayers are struggling to make ends meet, the least they deserve is a government that is also doing what it can to tighten the belt.
Bonding and the general fund are not and cannot be used as slush funds to buy the equipment or hire the staff we want, but to be used to secure the resources we absolutely need. In order for a new truck to get my yes vote, more transparent standards must be instituted.
First, there must be an independent testimony, outside of the fire department, or whichever department is making the request, to vouch for the credibility of such needs. Second, there must be a detailed plan on how the department or town will maintain this piece of equipment. Third, more legislative safeguards must be put into place to slow down the process so this Council or future Councils will not be pressured in voting on major ticket items in the guise of an “emergency.” This will provide the Council and Mayor the time needed to give our first responders what they truly need in a fiscally responsible manner.