City leaders took action last week to start the process to buy $2.8 million worth of new firefighting apparatus for the Ceres Fire Department.
In September Ceres Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Serpa appeared before the council and presented the case for a new $1 million quint ladder truck, two fire engines and an engine to fight brush fires.
At its Tuesday, Nov. 13 meeting, the council approved the purchase of the four vehicles from Rosenbauer Fire Apparatus North America using the Sourcewell consortium for greater purchasing power. The delivery wouldn’t take place until February or March of 2020.
The council also approved a loan from the city’s sewer fund to the General Fund to fund the purchase. Wells said the council had two viable financing options: borrow the funds which would have added several hundred thousand dollars in interest costs over 10 years; or borrow from the city’s $13.9 million sewer fund at a lower interest rate to be repaid annually over the next decade. The interest rate needs to be charged back to the city since sewer funds are earning an interest rate of about 3 percent, said Wells.
Wells said the city has not purchased fire apparatus since 2006.
“This has led to a fleet of vehicles that have increased maintenance costs and reliability concerns,” said Wells in a staff report. “For the last several years, the cost of repairing these older vehicles has risen dramatically. The current fleet has become too costly to maintain as front line apparatus and are in need of replacement.”
Rosenbauer was the lowest of three bidders at $577,729 for each fire engine.
He said the city will benefit from having a service center for Rosenbauer equipment at Burton’s Fire in Modesto.
The aging equipment now in service has come with increased maintenance costs and reliability concerns. From 2013 to 2018, the city spent $740,981 for repairs in the fire fleet. The city expects to use the reduced maintenance costs to help pay for the loan on the new equipment. The new debt should run the city about $295,000 annually.
Councilwoman Linda Ryno went along with the borrowing of sewer funds after assurances that the city doesn’t expect to do any major construction projects for a while.
Serpa gave a recommendation in September that the city could help pay for the equipment by resuming participation in the state’s fire strike team program which reimburses the city. He said payments by the state to Ceres for 2017 strike team activity were $111,000 above personnel and vehicle maintenance and repair.
He also said the savings from the reduced repair costs could go toward the payments on the new equipment.
Next fiscal year the city expects to order $250,000 worth of items such as extraction tools, ventilation fans and chainsaws. It will be budgeted from Measure H and General Fund dollars.