The spending of nearly $500,000 on anything is never done lightly by the Hannibal City Council, but when it comes to the community’s fire safety a vote on such an expenditure is likely approved unanimously. But this is not a normal year.
The spending of nearly $500,000 on anything is never done lightly by the Hannibal City Council, but when it comes to the community’s fire safety a vote on such an expenditure is likely approved unanimously. But this is not a normal year. And with the potential loss of several hundred thousands of dollars in sales tax revenue in Hannibal riding on the outcome of next month’s Missouri Legislature veto session, even the purchase of a new fire engine can’t be approved automatically.
That is the background to last week’s decision by the City Council to table the purchase of a new fire truck until after the mid-September veto session in Jefferson City.
Concern was expressed during the Council meeting over how long Leo M. Ellebracht Co., the low bidder for the Smeal fire truck, would honor its bid of$455,867, which is approximately $60,000 less than the other bid received. According to Mike Benjamin, deputy Hannibal fire chief, such a bid would normally be good for 60 days. Since the Tuesday, Sept. 16, Council meeting, when the matter is due to be brought up again, represents 61st day since the bids were opened, the company has indicated a willingness to extend the bid one additional day.
The Council’s decision to wait to make such a financial commitment until after the veto session is understood by Benjamin, who brought the purchase request before the Council during its Aug. 5 gathering.
“We understand why the Council wanted to wait to make a purchase of that size and for that many years,” said the deputy chief.
The city stands to lose over $800,000 in sales tax revenue if the General Assembly overrides a package of special sales tax breaks vetoed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in June.
City Manager Jeff LaGarce has already said publicly that such a loss of revenue would be a “major game changer” for a city that has already taken steps to scale back its operations after watching a steady decline in sales tax revenue in recent years. However, the loss of over $800,000 dollars, which would occur if the vetoes are overridden by the Legislature, would likely mean having to lay off 17 city employees, according to the city manager.
Even though the veto session is still a month away, the city is already nervous when it comes to making sizeable cash commitments.
In addition to tabling the fire engine purchase, the Council thought long and hard about entering into a sales tax rebate agreement with SZC Hotels & Development, which plans to build a hotel in western Hannibal. While the proposal that will see the city “rebate” 1.5 percent of its 2.25 percent sales tax that applies to the site where the hotel will be built was approved, Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Knickerbocker voiced concerns because of the city’s uncertainty over its future sales tax revenue.
It was noted that even though the Legislature has yet to open its veto session, the Council agreed that it is feeling the effects because it is already influencing decisions.
Along the same line during last week’s Council meeting, approval was given a resolution supporting Nixon’s veto of all sales tax exemption bills. The measure also urges state Sen. Brian Munzlinger and state Rep. Lindell Shumake to support those vetoes and refrain from efforts to override any of the bills.
The new truck the Fire Department hopes to buy is not a stock vehicle.
“It’s our specific designs,” said Benjamin, noting that several department members formed an engine committee to develop specifications for the apparatus.
The truck would feature a wheelbase that would enable it to navigate the narrowest of Hannibal streets. It would also be capable of hauling gear currently stored on the department’s rescue truck.
The new truck would replace the department’s reserve engine, which is 25 years old. According to Benjamin, with the passage of time it’s becoming more and more challenging to find replacement parts for the older truck. Unlike the reserve truck, the new truck would meet the latest National Fire Protection Association guidelines.
“So much has changed since the other (older) truck was purchased,” said Benjamin, referring to national standards.
If the green light is given to purchase the new truck, it would not arrive until 2015.
“It would take a little over 300 days to build,” said Benjamin.
The final payment ($181,858) on the department’s last truck purchase was made this fiscal year. According to a Council memo, payments for the new truck would be around $80,000 annually for six years.