Public Services Committee Chairman Joshua Moran, left, discusses the vehicles being replaced with Commissioner of Public Services Timothy Lescarbeau.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — They're rusty and worn out and tired. And, with any luck, their replacements will arrive before the snow really starts to fly next winter.
The City Council gave final approval on Tuesday to spend $425,000 to replace eight vehicles in the Department of Public Services' fleet and the first significant update in equipment in nearly a decade. The new administration wants this appropriation to get the department back on track with regularly scheduled replacements — rather than waiting until vehicles are no longer road-worthy.
"Their useful life is of eight or nine years before they get rolled into surplus or low-impact use and then this would become a renewable approach over time," Mayor Thomas Bernard told the council at its meeting on June 26. "The first step is to establish the schedule and put some discipline into it."
The order authorizes the purchase of four Ford F550 heavy duty trucks (the green trucks); two Dodge Ram Tradesman pickup trucks for Public Services and Inspection Services; a Chevrolet Silverado 3500 for the Building Department and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid for Inspection Services.
Some of the replaced vehicles will be demoted to backups or less strenuous needs; others will be declared surplus and sold.
While the council agreed to approve the appropriation so the trucks could be ordered as soon as possible, the Public Services Committee on Tuesday took a closer look at their current vehicles' condition prior to making a recommendation for the council vote.
What they saw was rusted-out frames and boxes, Bondo-filled dents, and trucks that have been spending more time getting repaired than functioning.
Commissioner of Public Services Timothy Lescarbeau said his department spent $74,000 just on parts keeping the vehicles going this past year. That didn't include the amount of labor the Highway Department's two mechanics put into them or the cost of not having them on the road when they were needed for plowing.
"My first week on the job I took 10 vehicles off the road because they were dangerous," said Lescarbeau, who was appointed in 2010 by the prior administration. "I am at the point with these, I will take them off the road if I have to."
The fleet had been on a fairly regular schedule for replacement: trucks were purchased around 2000, 2004 and 2008. That's about the time of the economic global collapse that hit the city's budget hard.
"We've been talking about a fleet schedule for quite awhile. The opportunity coming up with debt everybody knows that's coming off [for completed projects], we will have some capital," Lescarbeau said. "We just can't wait anymore."
He recommended getting into recycling the frontline vehicles every four or five years. The bodies could last a little longer now that the entire fleet can be cleaned and housed within the new City Yard building at Hodges Cross Road.
"The fleet being replaced is 11 years old. If I replaced one a year, in four or five years they're 16 years old," he said. "They're not going to make it that long. ... Unless we bite the bullet, we'll never catch up."
One truck's already been replaced by a 2011 Dodge Ram 5500 because it caught on fire during the winter. Lescarbeau said the Dodge is in good shape because it's stainless steel, which will be the case with the new F550s coming in.
The F550s will replace four F450s, purchased when the higher model numbers were only available as special orders but that are now standard. In answer to questions raised at the June meeting about using a less-expensive F350, Lescarbeau said they wouldn't hold up to the punishing use by the Highway Department
"It's the payload. The F350 is a heavy-duty home truck," he said. "You cannot put a municipal plow on an F350. The payload for an F350 is 14,000 pounds, the payload for an F550 is 19,500 pounds. Our trucks have a sander all winter long. The sander itself weighs a 1,000 pounds extra and we keep approximately 3,000 pounds of sand in it."
The frames aren't reinforced enough to handle the 800- to 1,200-pound weight of a municipal plow — and push heavy snow.
"Those 350s, they wouldn't get through one storm, they're not heavy enough to plow [street] snow," he said. Rather, they're good for parking lots and driveways.
Plowing broke the frame on a newer F550, in fact, because it was not a heavy duty model.
That truck was under warranty and repaired. The new vehicles will also be under a five-year extended warranty. Councilors were hoping to keep the purchases local but the city buys under the state purchasing register and the closest dealer is in Holyoke. However, Lescarbeau said trucks out for warranty repair would go to local dealers Johnson and Carbone Ford.
City Councilor Benjamin Lamb at the June meeting had expressed concern that a hybrid wasn't being considered to replace a Ford Fiesta used by Inspection Services since the city had adopted both the Green Communities Act and a resolution last year supporting the Paris Climate Accords.
"We've seen the cost of those vehicles go down," he said. "If we're going to spend this kind of money ... it should be on something that aligns with our city's ethos."
On Tuesday, the mayor said the Ford Fiesta did fall under the Green Communities guidelines because of its higher gas/mileage ratio.
"However, we're going to replace that ... we're going to go with a Hyundai Sonata Hybrid," he said, which had been priced out at the same cost as the Fiesta. "That would be the first hybrid vehicle in the city."
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