At what point is good money being thrown after bad?
Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon wanted that question answered Monday before spending any more money to repair a fire engine that has been out of service since last fall.
Solomon raised the issue when the council was asked to approve $15,338.92 to bring Engine 13 back on line. Many mechanical repairs to fire apparatus are made by the Department of Public Works, but in this case city mechanics didn’t have the expertise and the truck was sent to Five Star Fire in East Hartford, Conn. So far, $4,661.08 has been spent on the truck and it is still not working properly.
“This is a critical piece of equipment that has been out of service since November,” said Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, chair of the finance committee. She noted that replacing the whole apparatus would cost about $500,000. Built on a Freightliner chassis in 1995, it is used as a reserve engine.
But before spending any more money on repairs, Solomon wanted to know just what it will cost and what work is to be done.
A representative for the Department of Public Works told the council the funds were in the department budget and the repairs weren’t expected to cost the full $15,336.
“There’s no guarantee that after you’ve spent that money that it’s going to work,” said Solomon.
Solomon asked for a diagnosis of the engine problems and an estimate of the cost of repairs, including a breakdown of parts and labor.
“It’s not a guessing game with taxpayers’ dollars, whether it’s a widget or a bottle of water,” he said.
The bottle of water is reference to Solomon’s questioning of the purchase of bottled water to be sold at the Pilgrim Senior Center coffee shop last month. The water was part of a contract with Perkins Food Inc. to supply candy, chips, muffins and other foods for the shop. The items are sold at a minimal profit that flows back into center programs.
Solomon said he had noticed that the water was selling for $2 less per 24-bottle case at BJ’s and said the city should be shopping for the best deal.
Solomon eventually voted to approve the bid to Perkins.
David Picozzi, acting director of Public Works, explained yesterday that a firm estimate on repairs of the pump couldn’t be obtained until it was disassembled and that only two venders used by the city are capable of doing that. He said the $15,336 was an outside estimate for the work, as he didn’t want to be in a situation where he would have to return to the council for an additional $10 if the job came in at that.
Since Solomon wants a hard breakdown of the cost before the repairs are done, which the city and the vendor can’t do without taking the pump apart, the engine is being returned to the city from Connecticut.
As for the engine, Vella-Wilkinson deemed it a unique situation. She pointed out for it to be brought back into service; it needs certification.
“Sometimes you have to put in the money to take care of the problem. It’s not just throwing money at a problem,” she said.
But Solomon wasn’t convinced. Seeing the truck has been out of service for nearly three months, he saw no reason why it couldn’t wait for several more weeks while details were provided the council.
Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla said he, too, couldn’t accept a bid until he had seen a breakdown of the estimated cost.
“I don’t see how we can say this company has given us sufficient information,” he said.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur also had problems with a bid award. He suggested the bid be held until next month and additional information be provided.
That’s what the council ended up doing. Meanwhile, the truck will return to the city to await repairs. Five Star Fire said they could provide a breakdown of projected costs when contacted yesterday. The Beacon had not received a copy of the estimate as of yesterday.