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Commission looks to future facility needs

Fire commission begins efforts to maintain parking lot at fire hall as part of annual budget approval

The Medford Area Fire Department has been looking at different options for maintaining its parking lot, with several cost estimates coming in. Their back parking lot in particular is showing a lot of signs of cracking and wear, and the department is considering seal coating or chip sealing.

The initial estimate they got came through the city to completely mill down the surface and repave it, which came in at over $100,000. The department then got an estimate from Jensen & Son Asphalt regarding options for seal coating and chip sealing, with the cost of chip sealing estimated at $16,000. Chip seal coating was primarily looked at, with concerns brought up of whether there would be enough vehicle traffic to compress the chips down.

Chairman Lester Lewis said that sunlight effects the blacktop just as much as traffic, and that the blacktop should be chip-sealed after six or seven years of use if you want it to last a long time. He mentioned that one of the down sides of chip sealing is that people will be bringing chips into the building on their shoes for a long time.

The department previously tried using tar to fill the parking lot cracks, but a lot of the tar was pulled up because it stuck to tires or was pulled up by snow plows. They also used half of a tank of spray seal coating which was left over from a job by Jensen, who sold it to the fire station at a reduced price, but spray only covered a portion of the lot “You can definitely tell where the line breaks off, where the parking lot is sealed and where it’s not sealed,” said chief Mike Filas, adding that one-time low cost seal spray was a one time deal. “In that case the price was right. If there was three of those half tanks available, I could’ve done the parking lot for about less than a third of what it’s going to cost now.”

Lewis said the commission may be able to view a demonstration from Jensen in the spring, to show the difference between what is put on roads for chip seal and what would be put on the parking lot. He explained that the parking lot chip seals are finer than what is put on roads.

The commission added money to next year’s budget to cover the parking lot cost. $15,000 was previously added for building maintenance specifically for the parking lot, with the committee voting during the meeting to add an additional $5,000, although they’re not sure which path they will take to fix the parking lot.

If they spend the majority of the building maintenance funds on the parking lot, the fire department will have to look elsewhere for money if they need to fix another part of the building. The HVAC system was brought up as an expensive unit to replace if it fails, and money will need to be sought from a different source. If something happens such as an HVAC failure, the money to replace it would have to come out of the fire department’s reserves, or they would have to borrow money.

The budget for 2021 was already slated to go up $13,000 from what it is now, and with the $5,000 added for building maintenance parking lot, the budget will now go up by $18,000, to be billed quarterly and split amongst the participating municipalities. The $13,000 is slated to go towards their operational fund, for gear that wasn’t purchased this year due to spending priorities; the fire department overspent their personal protective equipment budget by about $30,000 due to the pandemic.

There will be CARES act money available that has to be spent on COVID-19 related expenses, including cleaning, and the funds can only be used if costs go beyond what was already budgeted. The fire department itself can’t use the funds, but municipalities can buy things with the money and then give it to the department.

The CARES act is a reimbursement grant, meaning municipalities would have to buy everything with their own money then apply for a grant, and there’s no guarantee they will be reimbursed; they will have to make all decisions with the knowledge that they may end up footing the bill for any purchases made. The amount of money each municipality gets from the federal government is based on their population.

The department looked at adapters which connect right to the firefighters’ face pieces with filter cartridges that protect them from COVID, which cost $171 each.

“They’re something that can be used even after [the pandemic ends],” said Filas. “They’re also dust filter regulators, and in worse case scenarios we can purchase ammonia or chlorine cartridges to go with the adapter... and it would be effective for working in some contaminated environments, too.”

If they purchased enough adapters for the department it would cost $6,000, plus $1,100 for filters.

The department also looked at a special washing machine designed for firefighters’ gear to replace their old washing machine, which would cost $4800. $4300 for a dryer was suggested as well, because currently firefighters dry their gear on a clothes line.

Towels, additional cleaning supplies, sanitizer, and detergent are also being considered. They’re focusing on items that would not only benefit the department from a COVID-19 perspective, but would also benefit them in other applications they might use them for.

Filas said that due to Taylor County’s small number of COVID-19 cases, they are a bit behind the curve on what extra precautions and safety measures they’ll need to take, and what should be purchased with the CARES money.

“We’re not even sure what we need,” he said. “We are trying to figure what we’ll need for the future, because my gut feeling is that when COVID-19 peaks here in Taylor County, the grant reimbursement period is going to be over.”

Any CARES act spending has to be done by early November, and the purchased products have to arrive by the end of the year.

Another meeting will be held to determine what will be purchased with the CARES money. The fire department will likewise determine what direction they will take with the parking lot at a later date.