The votes weren’t there for Flagler Beach City Commissioner and Chairperson Kim Carney’s proposal to put on hold a $600,000 purchase of a fire truck dubbed a “quint.”
By around sundown Thursday, two hours into the commission’s meeting and about one hour into the latest of a half dozen discussions on the proposed truck buy, it was still 4-1 for a new truck.
Commissioner Joy McGrew made clear that she was not interested in changing course. “I won’t vote to pull it out of the budget,” she said. Commissioner Steve Settle, getting choked up, seconded her. And Commissioner Jane Mealy added her support for the purchase. It was the clearest, on-the-record vote (without an actual vote) for the truck buy so far this summer. And though he was absent, Commissioner Marshal Shupe had made his position for the truck clear, as well as his position against Carney, especially in an August 26 memo to the city clerk attributing his absence today to family commitments of long date. “This vendetta against the Fire Department must stop,” Shupe wrote. “These individuals have never been active in a Fire Department, or they have not been active in many years.”
“It’s pretty clear where we stand,” Settle said, when he had regained his composure.
A petition that circulated around town earlier this month picked up 650 signatures opposed to the proposed buy and at least nudged commissioners who had already nodded their approval for the truck buy to at least think it over, but not by much. The pro-truck commissioners were quick to dismiss the petition as invalid or bearing a lot of unproven signatures. So was Mayor Linda Provencher, who said to Carney that on a previous issue a few years ago, it was Carney who rejected the validity of a petition.
“We can’t pick and choose what petition we want to accept or what we want not to accept,” Provencher said. “It’s either all or nothing. This is nothing.”
Unbowed, Carney pleaded against rushing into the $600,000 buy. “We are spending money like a bunch of banshees,” she said, pleading for a delay this year.
But when she made a motion to pull the truck buy proposal out of the budget this year and “think about what we’re doing,” the motion died for lack of a second: the rest of the commission had snubbed Carney.
“I resent the fact that you think the rest of us don’t think,” Mealy said immediately after the vote. “The fact that the rest of us don’t think just because we don’t agree with you, I resent that.”
Carney had reserved a segment of the meeting to lay out an extensive case against the immediate purchase of the quint, or any truck, this year. Carney made a broad-ranging presentation that sought to underscore what she sees as a recurring theme in the fire department’s push for a new fire truck, a so-called “quint,” for $600,000: “The money does not add up.” She argued with a PowerPoint presentation that the justification for a new truck is absent, the need to replace the city’s existing tower engine unproven, the money to pay for a new truck not available, and the process that led to the commission being pressured to buy the truck by the administration questionable.
“There is no justification of a quint based on the actual number of calls,” Carney said, when 90 percent of all emergency calls are for an ambulance, not for a fire. Even in the case of fire calls, in the past seven months, the city’s Tower 11 was dispatched nine times and cancelled all nine times. The city’s existing mutual aid agreements with Flagler County and Palm Coast ensure that fire engines are at the scene of fires quickly and effectively, “whether we want them or not,” Carney said. Tower 11, however, “is working,” she said.
The city administration last year argued that the truck should be maintained. This year it’s arguing it should be traded in for a quint because it’s too old. Carne y believes it’s useful but not essential, and certainly not calling for a replacement. “Something is broken, but I do not believe it is the truck,” she said.
“We have other needs in our city that are not being taken into account,” including a loan payment due on the city’s $700,000 downtown Community Redevelopment Agency loan.
“My request is for the commission to slow down. We are the ones who are purchasing this vehicle,” Carney said, ridiculing the notion that the city’s firefighters could make the decision to buy the truck without the city commission. The city administration has deferred much of the advocacy for truck to firefighters, though the ultimate decision is in the commission’s hands. “The facts are we have not determined a need for our community,” Carney said. “The justification is not there, the evaluation of the equipment is not there, the money is not there.”
Carney was also strongly opposed to the city administration’s plan to finance the $600,000 truck. Only $200,000 of that would come from a special fund established almost four years ago to set aside $50,000 a year for the purchase of new fire trucks. The remaining $400,000 would be pulled out of the city’s infrastructure fund, which is fed by the city’s share of the county’s sales surtax revenue. “We are stripping that fund, and I am opposed to stripping that fund,” Carney said.
Provencher was curious about Carney’s long-term aim: whether she was opposed to a truck purchase outright—any truck—or whether she just needed more time. Carney said she needs more time to make a decision for “what’s right for our city,” but also to ensure that the money is in the right fund to finance a new truck.
The meeting drew no more people than two previous town hall meetings focused on the fire truck issue—some 25 people, not including reporters, city staffers and about 10 members of the fire department. When Carney opened the floor, those who spoke followed the same pattern as those town hall meetings: short strings of opponents to the proposal tangled with short strings of proponents, though in this case the proponents were the fire captain, Bobby Pace, and one of his lieutenants, David Kennedy, the latter referring on three occasions to arguments against the purchase as “propaganda.” In all, about half a dozen people spoke in opposition to the proposal, while Pace, Kennedy and two current or past volunteers with the department, spoke in favor. One more resident spoke on the firefighters’ side, but touching on broader matters than the truck buy.
Pace reiterated many of the points he or other firefighters made in previous town hall meetings held to market the proposed buy, but also answering more recent criticism of the proposal. “I had high hopes of keeping that truck for several years,” Pace said. “That being said, a lot has happened over a year,” Pace said. “I do not think that Tower 11 was a bad purchase for this city.” The truck provided five years of service, he said. Fifteen firefighters have been certified to use aerial firefighting equipment, he said, countering the contention that the department would have to have additional staff to run the new quint.
“We are more prepared with this truck for the what-ifs,” Pace said. “Palm Coast and Flagler Beach will provide mutual aid if needed,” he said, but with 10 minutes’ response time compared to closer to four or five minutes from Flagler Beach.