A proposal to improve radio communications for the city fire department will involve placing a taller antenna on the Roosevelt Avenue water tower, a move the city Utilities Commission wants investigated first for logistics and legalities.
The commission gave approval Tuesday for the fire department to check out what's needed, including whether the Federal Aviation Administration would approve a larger antenna, what lighting modifications would be required, and what mounting systems could be used.
Vice Chairman Bob Hodgson asked that they investigate and return with a full written proposal for the commission to consider.
City Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst approached the commission about the antenna, explaining it's a safety issue with radio reception in some areas of the city being inconsistent. A 20-foot antenna had been on the tower previously in 2010 and then was replaced with two 8-foot antennas, affecting the reception.
He said the fire department would handle getting clearance from the FAA and would absorb the cost of installation of the new 20-foot antenna.
Hodgson said he was told there were problems before with the previous 20-foot antenna when helicopters were coming in to land at the hospital. He questioned the use of the tower by city hall.
Commission Chairman Geoff Goll said this was the second time they were approached about this. He asked about the issue of corrosion after Assistant Utilities Superintendent Matt Hoopes went through a list of considerations that would need addressed dealing with the FAA, lighting, mounting and material. He requested shatterproof construction, noting that two fiberglass antennas had broken off before.
"Is there no place else in the city of Salem where this can be placed?" Goll asked.
Kenst noted that he was just requesting that the fire department be permitted to check into the situation. He also said he was told the water tower is the highest point in the city.
Regarding a request to share in the cost of a new bucket truck for the city electrical department, the commission told Kenst they couldn't take action until they find out whether than can do it legally. The commission was awaiting an answer from the city law director.
The city's cost for the truck was set at $105,820, with the commission asked to pay $35,948 for it's share. Kenst said the electrician spends half his time on utility projects, with about 25 percent of that time in the bucket truck. The truck is 20 years old and has just 67,000 miles on it, but the mileage isn't the problem. He said the truck is losing its functionality.
Three quotes were sought through the state purchasing program, but the city was told a 6 percent price increase will take effect April 1, so Kenst said they were trying to get it approved before then. The proposal will go before the Finance Committee of City Council next week and possibly city council.
Goll said the question is whether the commission has the authority to use utility money to buy a piece of equipment that's not owned and operated by the utilities department. He suggested if the city finance committee gave the go-ahead, Kenst could come back to the commission once they get their legal question answered.
Kenst said he didn't know if the committee would go forward without the backing from the Utilities Commission. He asked if the commission could approve the purchase conditional on the okay of the law director, but Goll said that would be tough to do without a response from the law director.
Commission member Ben Funderberg went on record saying he didn't have a problem with a conditional recommendation.
No action was taken.
The Finance Committee of City Council has scheduled a meeting for 7:30 a.m. Monday and Kenst said he thought the bucket truck was part of the agenda, which includes two items under capital fund expenditures.
The next meeting of the Utilities Commission is set for 3 p.m. April 9 in the utilities department conference room.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org