New fire station? On second thought, noCouncil votes 4-3 to repair 74th St. facility instead of spending big to replace it
(March 31, 2017) Plans for a new Ocean City Fire Department station were extinguished Tuesday, as a City Council majority concluded that renovating the 74th fire house rather than replacing it would be a more prudent use of taxpayer money.
Although city officials received bids from four architecture firms and had $30,000 set aside in this year’s budget to be used to design a new Fire Station 3, the council voted 4-3 to use that money to address repairs to the facility instead.
Fire Station 3 is the last fire house in the resort’s plan to improve fire and paramedic services. According to an engineering report issued in 2002, renovations of the fire headquarters at 15th Street and Station 4 at 130th Street and relocating Station 3 to 65th Street would better serve the residents.
In 2014, renovations were completed at Station 4 for $3.3 million. In October 2015, the council committed to a renovation and relocation plan for 15th Street and 74th Street, respectively. Final touches on the fire headquarters was finished this year.
City Engineer Terry McGean projected that relocating Station 3 would cost $3.3 million, including the $30,000 that would have been spent on a design program.
“This [the $30,000] would essentially bring us to the point where we’d know what we’d want to build...how many bays, how many bunks and what live-in facilities… and how much it would cost,” he said to council. “I would not go to the bond market without spending the money on designs.”
Before the work session, however, Councilman Wayne Hartman took a tour of the 74th Street facility and consulted Fire Chief Chris Larmore, who told him the facility could last another five years.
Hartman also spoke with firefighters, who said they would rather have more employees work out of that location. With this information, Hartman moved to disregard the bids and to allocate the $30,000 to necessary upgrades. He received backing from Councilman Matt James.
“We’ve never heard the cost to renovate the fire house. I think this is something the council needs to re-evaluate since a lot of things have happened since we elected to move forward in 2015. We have $40 million of construction we approved in the near future,” he said, referencing the Public Works campus plan, the $14 million convention center expansion and the relocation of the Whiteside tram facility. “We haven’t seen a financial strategic plan to see how this is going to fall out.”
McGean said additional funds could keep Station 3 operational for a few more years, but he advised the council not to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a landlocked location that has no room for expansion.
Hartman also had issues with the live-in program, which allows roughly a dozen volunteers to live in one of the three fire stations in exchange for 40 hours of work.
“It’s unstructured. I have concerns that while they’re there for the purpose of sleeping six hours meets the requirement … we don’t have coverage for other parts of the day,” he said. I’d really like to see a study on its effectiveness and whether we reduced the overtime spending on this,” he said.
Larmore said that he answered truthfully about the Station 3 lasting another five years, but pointed out that it was the council’s job to decide on priority items such as Whiteside.
He also offered to make a presentation on the live-in program’s structure to prove that its successes were beyond economics.
“Let’s not undermine the good intentions of those people without the presentation, please,” Larmore said to Hartman.
Council President Lloyd Martin and Councilman Dennis Dare opposed Hartman’s motion, as they viewed spending funds on a design the best way to plan for the needs of the fire department.
“We have an undersized firehouse on an undersized property,” Dare said. “Maybe in the meantime, we can get individual questions and look collectively where our priorities are. But to spend $30,000 to put a Band-Aid on this is a waste of taxpayer money.”
Hartman’s motion passed with James’, Councilman Tony DeLuca and Councilman John Gehrig’s support.
Although McGean would need to reexamine the property, Hartman said that the money could be used to upgrade Station 3’s ventilation system in the living quarters and to make minor improvements to the kitchen.