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New fire hall could soon be up for bids

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In this architect's floor plan for Fire Station No 4, space is available in the bays for five trucks and other emergency vehicles, but only two will initially be stationed there, according to Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Dowell.

Lebanon Fire Station No. 4 is one step closer to reality, and it could take a further step on St. Patrick's Day.

In a work session, the Lebanon City Council reviewed plans for the fire hall proposed for the city's southwest corner, discussed how it could be financed and heard Mayor Philip Craighead announce plans to place authorizing bids for Station No. 4 on the council agenda for March 17.

That would be the council's second meeting in March, and of course the 17th is the holiday when "everybody's Irish."

The city already owns the site on South Eastgate Court behind the Wendy's Restaurant on Highway 109, just north of I-40.

The proposed 10,895-square-foot facility would include a 24-bunk sleeping area, kitchen and dining areas, training rooms and a bay large enough to house five fire trucks or emergency vehicles.

Fire Chief Chris Dowell explained that as currently planned, the building will actually be larger than will be used at first. "But we planned for growth," he told the council at its work session Thursday night. "And it's planned to be built so we can add on when we need to."

'$1 million in payments per year'
Craighead told the council that $1.5 million is already in the budget for the fire hall, but they will have to decide on how exactly that will be financed. He suggested a seven-year loan which would require repayment of about $180,000 per year.

A similar loan arrangement could pay for the needed equipment including one fire truck and a rescue truck, plus several sets of gear for firefighters at about $5,500 per set, Craighead added. That loan would cost about $116,000 per year in payments, he said.

The mayor also estimated about $700,000 per year to hire needed personnel, or a total of about $1 million per year, starting in about two years.

"It will be at least a year and a half before we have any recurring costs," Craighead said.

Taxes from anticipated growth in that area of the city should cover both the debt service and the manpower, he added.

'Can city afford it?'
However, Ward 2 Councilor Fred Burton questioned whether the city can afford to build the station now. "We need Goodall Homes and Spence Creek to make a contribution to this fire hall," he said. "Their residents are who will benefit from it."

It's true that residents and businesses in that part of town will benefit, both in terms of protection in the event of an emergency and by having a better ISO rating and correspondingly lower fire insurance premiums, Dowell responded.

But he pointed out that the rest of the city will benefit, too. "Now when we have a call in that area, we have to send firefighters and equipment from other stations out there, leaving the rest of the city unprotected," the fire chief said.

While City Finance Director Robert Springer acknowledged that neither he nor anyone can offer exact numbers predicting growth, it is coming, he said. Ward 4 Councilor Bernie Ash added that infrastructure will help bring that growth.

"This fire station will attract new business which will generate taxes to cover the cost of personnel," he said.

Grants could reduce costs
Craighead also told the council that grants are available to cover the cost of new personnel for the first two years, and Dowell said the Fire Department is doing what it needs to do to be eligible for those grants.

"To get the grants, we needed to run more calls," he said. "And our calls are up from last year, because we've taken over running medical calls in the city."

Those calls had previously been covered by the Wilson Emergency Management Agency (WEMA). "If we can get those grants, we could get up to three or four years before we have to have the salaries in the budget," Craighead said.

That's why the city should go ahead and put building the fire hall up for bids, he added - and why that step will be on the city council agenda for March 17.

Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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