On June 3, the Saco Fire Department brought before the City Council a request to spend $108,000 on a new fireboat. The request will now be opened to a public hearing (at 7 p.m.) on June 17, prior to the council voting on this purchase. This will be the fifth time that this topic has been on a City Council agenda.
Based upon information that has been provided by the fire chief, the boat would only operate for a portion of the year, primarily between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and a total of 19 calls were reported in 2012. It remains unclear how many of those calls were for true emergencies, as well as how many were actually in Saco Bay, as opposed to the Saco River, where it would be unsafe for the existing smaller fire boat to operate.
We also know that, based upon registration information from 2012, only a small portion of Saco’s population (less than 4.5 percent) own a boat and that the fire department has been able to function successfully without a fireboat since the original boat sank (last) June.
At a time when Saco’s taxes and mil rate is one of the highest in the state, and given the difficulties that the city has faced in trying to achieve a zero budget in fiscal year 2014, the Saco Citizens for Sensible Taxes do not believe that now is the right time to purchase a new boat or to incur the associated costs for support and maintenance. This is a significant investment for a relatively small number of calls and a service that benefits only a small segment of the population for a portion of the year.
If a boat must be purchased, we would like to see the city formalize a partnership agreement with a neighboring community, where each pays half of the cost and the Saco council approves no more than $50,000. This seems like a reasonable compromise that further strengthens what is taking place now, minimizes costs and offers both communities an acceptable level of safety and response capabilities.
We recognize that this is a controversial issue, given the economic climate and the need for public safety. The answer may be found in compromise. To that end, we hope that you will join us in reaching out to the City Council and requesting that they table this vote at the June 17 meeting and provide opportunity to consider this or other more cost effective options.
Chairman, Saco Citizens for Sensible Taxes