Wareham Fire District budget request up 16 percent from last year
Wareham Fire District officials are asking voters for a hefty budget increase this coming fiscal year for the fire and water departments.
The $12.3 million combined budget for the district, which is governed independently from the town, is up $1.6 million from last year, marking a 16 percent increase.
Voters will be asked to approve the funds at the Wareham Fire District Annual Meeting, set for April 9 at 7 p.m. in the Wareham High School auditorium. All registered voters living in the Wareham Fire District may participate.
Also on the agenda will be funding requests from fire department officials for a $1.3 million ladder truck, $76,000 pickup truck to support fire response and $85,000 to upgrade the department’s radio infrastructure. Those requests, if approved, will be funded by transferring or raising funds, not through the department’s operating budget.
In total, the Wareham Fire Department’s $6.9 million operating budget is up 12 percent from last year, a $378,180 increase. Much of that – $357,000 – is due to contracted raises for staff.
The Wareham Water Department’s $5.4 million budget is up $820,000 from last year, an 18 percent increase.
Water Department Superintendent Andrew Reid said the increase is needed to maintain infrastructure, plan for the multi-million dollar replacement/repair of district pipes and operate a new treatment plant approved by voters last year.
“We’re being proactive,” said Reid. “We know we have a lot of valuable assets in place that are aging, and we’re trying to maintain them.”
To shore up district finances, the Wareham Board of Water Commissioners approved a 52 percent rate hike in water fees this February.
According to officials, the current bill for someone using 37,400 gallons of water in a six-month period is $193. That’s close to the amount of water an average household uses, said Reid. With the increase, that number will be $293.70.
The district currently bills users twice a year, but that could change on April 9 if voters approve a $2.5 million request to install automated water meter readers in all ratepayers’ homes.
The new system would modernize how the district bills users. Right now, each meter must be read twice a year by staff and manually tallied. Reid said an upgrade would provide several benefits, including the ability for the district to bill on a quarterly basis, resulting in smaller, though more frequent, bills. Also, water usage rates would be directly sent to the district office, eliminating the need for manual readers.
Reid said the new system would allow users to monitor their water usage instantaneously. That way if leaks occur they can be spotted sooner and repaired, avoiding costly bills – sometimes in the range of thousands of dollars.
Paying for the new meter reading system will be paid for by raising ratepayers’ bills. Reid said if approved, the average water user will pay an additional $48 per year.
For the fire department, Acting Chief Pat Haskell said firefighter safety is key in requesting equipment and upgrades.
“We’re trying to be responsible to the taxpayer, but we also have to try and be responsible to our firefighters when it comes to their safety,” said Haskell.
The largest request – $1.3 million for a new ladder truck – will replace the department’s current ladder truck, a 1985 model that has surpassed its 30-year life expectancy, said Haskell.
A new truck would include a bucket at the end of the ladder, increasing safety for firefighters and others during rescue operations, he said. Also, the truck will allow firefighters better access to multi-story buildings in the event of a fire or accident. Haskell noted that the district has changed a lot in 35 years. Wareham Crossing, a large hotel and a currently under construction multi-story apartment complex are all new additions in the district.
Haskell said other items are needed as well, including new hydraulics for the department’s mechanic division. The current hydraulics, used to lift fire trucks for repairs, are decades old and can no longer hoist the heavier vehicles.
“Thirty years ago fire trucks weighed a lot less,” said Haskell. “There’s so much equipment now the lifts can’t do the job.”
Other fire department requests include: $15,000 for a new outboard motor for the department’s fireboat; $30,000 for new tires and rim upgrades for vehicles and $25,000 for protective clothing replacement.