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Bedford fire chief: new substation needed to accommodate growth

Union Leader Correspondent

February 17. 2014 8:15PM

BEDFORD — Over the past few months, Fire Chief Scott Wiggin has provided several reasons why the town needs a fire substation to accommodate commercial and residential growth along South River Road. But he drove the point home at the Feb. 12 public hearing on the $3.8 million bond by saying that 92 percent of the town is negatively impacted by the increase of calls for services along the South River Road corridor.

“Because we’re dedicating so much time down in that area, we’re compromising the rest of the town,” Wiggin said. “If we do have a South River Road station, (they) would be the first responders in that area, and it leaves our people in the main station on Route 101 to cover the northern area of town.”

After a nearly four-hour public hearing, the Town Council approved sending a $30 million road bond, a $3.8 million fire substation bond and a $26 million operating budget to voters. The bonds will appear on the March 11 ballot, and the operating budget goes to voters at the annual Town Budgetary Meeting on Wednesday, March 12.

Wiggin and Finance Director Crystal Dionne presented the costs and supporting statistics for the $3.8 million bond. Wiggin said that over the past 20 years, the rise in population, the calls for service and the inability to meet national safety standards has become a growing concern. Since then, the town’s population has grown by more than 69 percent and calls for service have increased by more than 227 percent.

Increasing call volume

South River Road from Manchester to Merrimack represents 8 percent of the town’s land mass and contains about 20 percent of the town’s population.

The area generates 41 percent of the department’s annual call volume, of which 70 percent are for medical calls, he said. In 2010, there were 1,376 calls for service and increased to 1,706 calls in 2013. In addition, during the day the townwide population increases by 40,000 people because of office workers, medical centers, stores and restaurants.

Wiggin said the The National Fire Protection Association’s guidelines for response is within six minutes of a call — four minutes for travel and two for processing. Currently, Bedford averages seven to eight minutes in the South River Road area from the Route 101 fire station.

“The addition of our proposed substation will reduce these response times to three to four minutes,” he said.

According to the American Heart Association, a response to cardiac arrest within four to six minutes results in possible brain damage, in six to 10 minutes brain damage is probable, and a response of more than 10 minutes would cause brain death.

Decreased mutual aid costs

For 20 years, the town has continued to use two ambulances, and the fire substation, if approved, would provide an additional ambulance. The substation would also increase the town’s revenue by about $109,000 per year because of a decreased need for mutual aid services. Wiggin said 129 calls went to mutual aid last year, with each call costing about $850.

The proposed substation would contain two ambulance bays and would be staffed at daytime peak hours by three additional firefighters/EMTs and by one transferred by the main station, one ambulance and the town’s water/river rescue equipment. It would also house an office for police and would leave room for future expansion.

The cost of the substation includes $600,000 for 2.6 acres in land purchases, $450,000 for site development, $2.8 million for building construction, $115,000 for furniture, computers and equipment, $95,000 for an ambulance, and $275,000 for staffing. Ongoing operating expenses would cost $25,000 beginning in 2015, or $38 in taxes per year for a $400,000 home. A purchase and sales agreement for the land is expected to be signed in the next week or so, and the money will be taken from the Town Council’s land reserve fund, with no tax impact.

For a $400,000 home, the 10-year bond would cost $61 per year, then decreases to $42 per year — an average of $56 per year over the life of the loan, Dionne said.

She said the $3.8 million bond is being presented to voters as the worst-case scenario.

“We will only issue the bond for what we need to build this substation. Any additional funding that is authorized in this bond will be brought back to the voters and requested to be rescinded so it cannot be spent on anything further,” Dionne said.

Dionne said the town will review information about the station and call volume during the first few years to determine if additional staffing is needed.

Only one resident offered comment on the bond, asking if using volunteer call firefighters was considered.

At the end of the hearing, Chairman Chris Bandazian said the bonds need two-thirds majority to pass.

Budget adjustments

Before approving the operating budget for the ballot, the Town Council amended the original amount of $26,191,098 to $26,020,675, including a reduction of $18,000 in revenue from the recently revoked Sunday business ordinance fee; transferring $14,434 to the Conservation Commission land reserve fund; reduction of $108,000 in debt service from the TIF District fund; withdrawal of $100,000 for traffic signals in the TIF District; and increasing the town manager line item by $23,143.

The estimated tax rate would be $4.99, a 2 cent increase over the 2013 budget.

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