Salem probably getting new bucket truck

SALEM – The city electrician is getting a new bucket truck, as long as the city Utilities Commission follows through on paying part of the purchase price and the city can cancel the order without a monetary penalty if the deal falls through.

That was the gist of a resolution and an amendment to the resolution approved by Salem City Council Tuesday night after much discussion on many levels related to the purchase.

Questions were raised over whether members of the Utilities Commission had given a commitment and planned to approve their department’s participation in the cost when they meet next week, whether there was time for them to hold a special meeting before the order had to be placed to get a discount and whether council should approve the resolution which noted the Utilities department participation even though the commission had not voted on the matter and it wasn’t a done deal set in stone.

The Finance Committee of City Council had recommended the purchase of the truck through state purchasing for a total cost of $105,820, with the Utilities Department share set at $35,948, leaving $69,872 for the city to pay. They figured the Utilities Department share based on how often the truck is used by the electrician for Utilities business. Usage of the truck was set at 50 percent and usage of the lift was set at 25 percent, which is how they arrived at the figures of $18,987 for the truck and $16,961 for the lift for a total of $35,948.

The total cost of the bucket truck of $105,820 was based on $37,975 for the truck itself and $67,845 for the lift. The old truck was 20 years old.

City Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst explained that the price of the truck was good until April 1 and he got an extension on the price until April 3, which is today.

Mayor John Berlin said he didn’t want the public to perceive the truck purchase as a rushed situation. He said a letter was sent to the Utilities Commission on Feb. 14 and stated the city needed to know by April 1, which was then extended. He confirmed with Kenst that he had not received a response and questioned the reason.

During the commission’s March meeting, Kenst made his request in person, but the commission took no action, saying they were awaiting an answer from the city law director on whether they could legally participate in the purchase of a truck not owned by the department, but said they would call a special meeting to take action if deemed necessary once they had the answer.

Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart confirmed what transpired at the meeting and city Law Director Brooke Zellers noted that he did send the response and he received an email from Utilities Commission Chairman Geoff Goll saying they intended to give the go-ahead to their participation.

Councilman Dave Nestic asked if anything could be added to the resolution in case the three-member Utilities Commission said no after council approved the purchase and put in the order. Councilman K. Bret Apple said from a legal standpoint, he could understand the concern.

Councilman Jeff Cushman also asked if they could pass the resolution as it reads when they didn’t have the commission’s blessing for sure.

The Utilities Commission doesn’t meet until 3 p.m. April 9 and the price on the truck was going to rise by 6 percent if the order wasn’t placed by today. As for a special meeting, they agreed it was too late for one to be called to get the order placed in time due to the requirement for 24-hour notice for the sunshine law. There was no guarantee they could get another extension.

Apple said if there was no cost to back out of the truck deal after the order is placed if they have to, then that would work, but if they can’t, that’s a problem.

“Assurances are wonderful, but they don’t cut it in the business world,” he said.

Berlin noted the sequence of events and attributed it all to a timing issue.

In a matter related to the Utilities Commission, Cushman reported that the mayor requested a meeting of the Utilities Committee of City Council to discuss the role of the Utilities Commission. When asked why, Berlin said he wanted to discuss his role with respect to the commission, explaining that the organizational chart shows the commission reporting to the mayor to report to the public.

He said the Utilities Commission was formed in the 1950s and every once in a while they should look at the situation, noting the commission’s role should be to do what’s in the best interest of the city.

No date has been set for the Utilities Committee meeting, but Berlin said he’ll talk more about the topic at that time.

Mary Ann Greier can be reached at