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Twenty-five fire hydrants don't work in town

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW The Select Board called a special meeting last Monday evening to vote on the final FY09 budget, but an important issue brought up by the Department of Public Works (DPW) delayed that vote until more than an hour after the meeting started.

"The hydrants and valves in town have been very problematic," Mike Wrabel, DPW director, told the Select Board. Wrabel, along with Assistant DPW Director Pete Thurber and Town Engineer Thom Martens, gave a brief PowerPoint presentation to the board at the beginning of the meeting highlighting the fire hydrants and water mains and valves throughout the town that need replacement.

"We're asking for a bit more for water in our budget," Thurber said. That "bit more" would pay to replace the 25 inoperable hydrants throughout the town. He explained that the hydrants in questions are irreparable because they are so old, the company that made them no longer manufactures the parts required.

Thurber stated that 70 percent of the 1,090 hydrants in Longmeadow are more than 45 years old.

Wrabel added that as of last fall, eight hydrants were considered inoperable but testing found 17 more that could not be repaired. New hydrants will cost $3,000 each.

More than 2,000 valves and main are in this state of disrepair as well. Thurber used the example of the water main break as the intersection of Williams and Laurel streets on Feb. 4 to illustrate this point. What should have been a small, isolated area without water became an area of 40 - 50 households without water for a full day because the valve gates were not strong enough.

"Funds for things like this should be in the budget every year," Martens said.

"The DPW is faced with immediate needs," Select Board Chair Hal Haberman noted.

William Scibelli, Select Board member, agreed, stating, "We have a water disaster here. No work on this has been done in 50 years. We have major, major problems here."

Scibelli wasn't in favor of using FY09 funds to pay for the repairs, however. He suggested the DPW bond for the total cost of repairing all the hydrants, valves and mains in town, adding, "Don't do it piecemeal."

Paul Santaniello, Select Board clerk, said it would cost $2.5 million to replace everything in Longmeadow that needed replacing.

The Select Board debated several ways to pay for the projects, including using reserve funds and free cash. Scibelli said he was "vehemently against" using reserves and reiterated that the projects should be bonded and put before the people of the town for a vote.

"This is about fire suppression," Select Board Vice-Chair Kathleen Grady stated, "especially in the older part of town. I can't vote against funding for this because it might put people in danger."

Scibelli noted that the DPW included a new van, front end loader, wood chipper and money set aside for a fleet account in their FY09 budget requests and asked if the DPW could prioritize any of these items over valves and hydrants.

"If you couldn't get everything you wanted for Christmas, what would you want?" he asked.

Wrabel replied that if absolutely necessary, he could take the van and the fleet account out of his budget.

"Hydrant replacements are capital improvements," Santaniello stated. "They should never come out of an operating budget."

Haberman said if the money needed for the project were to go into the budget, it would have to come from water and sewer rates, which would have to be increased another 10 to 11 cents over the current rates.

Scibelli suggested the DPW lower what it needed to $61,125 the amount set aside for the fleet account to start the repairs and then continue discussion of bonding again until the November elections.

"We'll focus more on valves and hydrants with $61,000," Wrabel stated. "I know when we start flushing again there will be 15 to 20 more that will need repairs, though."

The Select Board unanimously approved using the fleet account to pay for hydrant replacements before unanimously approving the proposed FY09 budget.