Rhinebeck village facing big capital expenses

The Rhinebeck Village board is weighing its options on a number of capital expenses, several of which were not included in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The police, highway, and fire departments have each requested new vehicles, while the water department is looking to replace water station valves and damaged fire hydrants.

The general fund budget, passed April 29 for the fiscal year starting June 1, totaled $2,307,943 and resulted in a property tax increase of 4.89 percent.

Among the budgeted expenses is the replacement of three control valves at the water station to address water pressure problems. Trustee Heinz Sauer, water department liaison, expects that the repairs, totaling an estimated $90,000, will reduce major water line breaks. He said there have been 64 such breaks over the last 12 years, resulting in at least 500,000 gallons of lost water.

Sauer also said 30 “vintage” fire hydrants, some dating to 1895, must be replaced over the next three years at a cost of $160,000. Roughly half the hydrants are in Rhinecliff, which pays the village a rental fee of $300 per hydrant per year.

The repairs are all included in the water department’s five-year capital plan, which has a reserve of $270,000.

The village’s general fund, however, has no such reserve. According to Mayor Heath Tortarella, “The framework of a capital replacement plan was set by the village but has not been consistently funded in the past.”

Tortarella said the 2013-14 village budget made no capital reserve contributions, though the 2014-15 budget adds $9,000 to the police department’s reserve, which currently stands at $23,000.

Since the end of the budget process in April, the board has received requests from the police department for a new SUV and the highway department for a dump truck, each estimated at about $40,000. Both vehicles would replace existing equipment that the board fears would not pass inspection without major repairs. “The requests are not exactly unexpected,” said Tortarella, “just sooner than planned.”

Tortarella is also looking into a grappler truck for the highway department, which he said would improve the village’s brush collection and reduce major service backlogs. Currently, brush pickup requires five workers and four pieces of equipment. According to Tortarella, the grappler would require just one worker or two workers, with no additional equipment. The village conducts regular brush pickup from spring until the first major snowfall.

The biggest unanticipated expense for the village is the repair, or possible replacement, of the fire department’s primary attack truck. Fire chief Kevin Asher informed the board at its April 29 meeting that the 26-year-old truck is out of service with severe engine damage. Asher said repairing the truck would be “throwing good money after bad.” He estimates the repairs would cost nearly $18,000, while replacement would cost about $400,000.

The board has authorized $4,500 for an outside consultant to evaluate the fire department’s equipment needs based on its service area, and to develop a replacement plan.

At its April 29 meeting, the board discussed a number of financing options for the requested equipment, including a community facility grant and low-interest loan from the USDA for the fire truck.

Tortarella noted, “We have not committed to any purchases at this time and are simply discussing the actual needs of the village and the options available to us for financing.”

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