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With fire insurance rating at risk, Natchez leaders vote to purchase fire truck

From The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Natchez is officially trying to obtain a loan to purchase a new ladder fire truck to replace its old, noncompliant model.

Natchez aldermen voted at a special called meeting Thursday to authorize a formal letter to the Mississippi State Rating Bureau stating the city’s intent to purchase a ladder fire truck that has a pumping system.

Without such a measure, the city would likely see its fire rating diminish from a 5 to a 6, which would mean higher insurance premiums for property owners, Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said.

“I don’t plan for (the rating) to degrade on my watch nor on your watches,” Grennell said to the aldermen. “We have got to do something to make sure we acquire this ladder truck.”

Following a Tuesday meeting between Grennell, Fire Chief Aaron Wesley and a member with the rating bureau, the city officials said they were told a pump would be required to put the city in compliance and retain its current fire rating.

The current, 26-year-old truck is not only six years outdated in terms of compliance, but it also does not have a pumping system.

Despite numerous applications to grant programs over the years, Grennell said, the city has been unable to locate funding and now must likely turn to a capital improvement loan program under the Mississippi Development Authority.

The program allows for a maximum $750,000 loan with a 10-year term on the fire truck at either a 3-percent rate for taxable endeavors or a 2-percent rate for tax-exempt purpose, Community Development Coordinator James Johnston said. Based on prior experience, Johnston said these types of situations typically constitute a tax exemption.

As mandated by the loan program, Johnston said he plans to set up a public hearing for Aug. 14 after the board of aldermen’s regular meeting.

Quotes for a brand new truck came in approximately $1 million, with down payments of approximately $300,000 or $250,000 depending on the exact model.

Aside from the loan, Johnston said the city has identified $210,000 of other funds to go toward the truck, while remaining funds are unidentified and will vary in amount depending on the type of model truck the city chooses to buy.

But a good bit of discussion at Thursday’s meeting revolved around whether the city could potentially buy a used truck — or as Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said, “reconditioned” vehicle —that would still bring the city within compliance while also potentially saving money.

“It may be easier to go buy a new one, but it is not cost effective or responsible to the taxpayers of this city,” Dillard said. “We have to look at other ideas.”

When asked by Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith whether that would be possible, Wesley first said the truck needed to be new, but after more discussion he said the department could explore its options.

Additionally, Dillard said he wanted the county to consider contributing to the truck since the Natchez Fire Department covers areas outside of the city as well.

Grennell, however, said he had gotten the sense that the county was trying to distance itself from the city in terms of fire protection.

Toward the end of the meeting, the aldermen voted to authorize any letters needed regarding the intent to buy a fire truck — whether used or new  — and also to send out a request for proposals for a new truck.