“The problem is now we just don’t have excess money,” Rinthen said. “When we had excess money, we would put it back in the CD.”
Fire rating could change
Sebastian said failure to upgrade the city’s fire trucks could result in a lower fire rating from the Insurance Services Office, which would cause home insurance rates in the city to rise.
Sebastian said Lancaster currently has an ISO rating of 4, with 1 being the highest. According to information from the ISO, half of the rating is based on how well fire stations meet ISO standards, while 40 percent of the rating is based on the quality of the community’s water supply system. Ten percent of the rating is based on the 911 system in place to alert emergency responders to a fire.
Sebastian said he has received no formal notice that ISO is planning to review Lancaster’s rating, but reviews occur about every four years and it’s about time for Lancaster’s straw to be drawn.
For the department’s trucks to pass inspection, they must be able to sustain certain levels of water output at certain pressures. Sebastian said he recently tested the department’s 23-year-old truck with the department mechanic and it passed the water output tests but not by much.
“It’s barely making that right now,” he said. “The truck’s still running and we’re going to take care of it, but we need to prepare for when it goes out.”
Sebastian hopes if the truck were subjected to ISO testing today that it could pass, but he isn’t certain.
Other recent changes also could impact a new ISO rating. Recent upgrades to Lancaster’s water system will be a positive, Rinthen said. Sebastian said it’s possible the upgrades could offset losses in other areas.
The new Garrard County High School poses a potential negative for the ISO rating because it is more than a mile from the Lancaster fire station, Sebastian said.
Lancaster’s mutual aid agreement with Garrard County District 1 Fire Department may help, though, because District 1 has a station closer to the high school.
Sebastian said the fire department used to receive all of the money from Lancaster’s municipal insurance tax, and it would put away a portion of that money toward fire truck replacement. But over the years, more and more of that money has been taken away from the department.
Rinthen said the fire department still is funded using the municipal insurance tax, but he acknowledged that more of the tax money has gone to the police department over the years.
While all of the tax money used to go to the fire department, that wasn’t necessarily the best setup, he said.
“It was never meant to be controlled by the fire department,” he said. “It’s the taxpayers’ money, and it goes into the general fund (for public safety expenses).”
Sebastian approached the City Council with concerns about the aging fleet and the lack of savings for a new truck earlier in the year when council members were discussing Lancaster’s 2010-2011 budget, but so far no action has been taken.
“They haven’t done it yet,” he said. “They do need to take it seriously.”
Ideally, Sebastian would like to see a portion of the municipal insurance tax returned to the fire department so the city can continually save toward the next new fire truck. Such a move is important when you consider the age of the rest of the department fleet, he said.
The department’s newest truck — its ladder truck — is 13 years old, and when it needs to be replaced, a new ladder truck will cost at least $500,000, he said.
“Maybe I’ll be retired by the time that needs to be replaced,” he said.