Inflation drove up the price of a new tank truck for the Amherst Fire Department by 19%, an add-on of just over $160,000 that county officials agreed to cover in a purchase now over a million dollars.
The purchase of the fire truck was listed at $871,615 in the county’s current budget as part of its capital improvement plan. Sam Bryant, director of public safety, recently told the Amherst County Board of Supervisors that at least three price increases from the seller have taken place.
Bryant said the new truck should last at least 20 years and that the overall price point reaching such a high level is new territory for the county.
Supervisor Tom Martin, who is volunteering as department head, withdrew from the vote and left the meeting room during the discussion. The board approved the raise 3-0, with supervisor Claudia Tucker absent.
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“We can’t control inflation,” said David Pugh, chairman of the board. “We don’t know what will happen. … Everyone struggles with inflation, especially if you drive a lot.
Bryant said the Emergency Services Board struggled deeply with the request for more money.
“We worked hard,” Bryant said. “It’s taxpayers’ money and it was very difficult.”
The board and staff also discussed a less expensive purchase option, the specifics of equipment features and water capacity. According to the dialogue, going for a cheaper option would reduce the water capacity by 500 gallons.
Supervisor Jimmy Ayers said the 19% hike was “in no way planned” and that he had the unpleasant experience of being in rural parts of the county battling fires without enough water.
“…And it’s a hell of a feeling when your engine runs out of water, then the house fire or whatever you’re fighting, the flames flare up again and you’re screaming for help on top of that. water,” Ayers said.
He said 500 gallons could mean the difference between life and death for a county resident or someone who loses their home.
Pugh said he didn’t want to be the person in charge of a truck not having the proper water capacity at a crucial time.
“I just want to make sure we’re making a financially smart decision,” Pugh said.
Pugh said he would be hard pressed to find another town the size of Amherst County that has invested so much in emergency vehicles.
“This tip and previous tips have done a hell of a job getting new trucks on the road. We spend a lot of money on fire equipment in the county,” Pugh said, adding of the price hike, “It’s a tough pill to swallow. I know we can’t control inflation, but right now we have to make careful financial decisions.
Discussing the specifics of device options and spending less money on purchase, Bryant said, “I can’t put a price tag on a life. It’s difficult.
Pugh said he appreciates the volunteers who save the county millions each year in that staff would be paid to fight fires. Going forward, he said, the council needs to take a close look at what the county buys in emergency devices.
“They can’t fight inflation,” Ayers said of local fire departments. “Nobody can.”