NORTH STONINGTON — The discovery of severe rotting in the exhaust manifold earlier this year and other issues that could cause the frame to collapse has led the town to sideline a 15-year-old pickup and plow truck for the winter. With a potentially harsh season anticipated, members of the Board of Selectmen are moving forward in seeking a replacement.

The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday approved sending a special appropriation request for $53,000 to the Board of Finance for consideration and scheduling of a public hearing. The truck, a 2022 Super Duty F-250, would replace the town’s 15-year-old truck that has most recently been used as both the mechanic’s truck for addressing road maintenance issues and is also used as an all-purpose utility plow to aid with snow removal in the winter.

A department request for replacement during the spring was initially approved by the Board of Selectmen, but Highway Foreman Don Hill said the discovery of further damage, including specific issues with rotting in the exhaust manifolds not discovered until this past spring and continuing rotting of the frame, forced the department to come forward in seeking the allocation.

“At this point, the frame has rotted to a point that the truck could break right in half. I’m not going to use it this winter if we still have it because with the holes in the truck and the rotting, it’s just too dangerous,” Hill said. “It’s so far gone that if we send it to auction, we’re going to have to auction it as parts.”

In presenting to the board on Tuesday, Hill showed several pictures showing the extreme rotting on the vehicle, which includes multiple holes in the exhaust manifolds, extreme damage to the frame and additional rotting in the front end, cab mounts and doorsteps that are all playing a role in compromising the truck’s integrity.

The aging truck, a 2006 F-350, has 200,100 miles on it. Hill said it serves an important role in plowing school and town properties as well as back roads in the community during the winter.

In searching for a reasonably priced replacement, Hill provided two purchase options to selectmen that both contained the F-250 and plow package. An estimate provided by Columbia Ford in Columbia, Conn., offered a package with plow for $47,207 and the next-lowest offer was Gengras Ford in Plainville, Conn., a company on the state bid list, which offered the same package for $52,934.

With the difference in pricing, however, officials said there would also be a considerable change in the delivery time. Gengras has one truck available now, which would be ready for delivery in October, whereas Columbia Ford had provided an estimated delivery date of January 2022 as a result of the supply issue and high demand for vehicles. If other issues arise, officials warned it could be longer before the truck is delivered.

“There were concerns (in discussions) that if we go with the less expensive truck whether it would even be available for us this winter,” said Christine Dias, the town’s administration and finance officer.

Selectman Bob Carlson said that with the photographs, the need for a replacement is clear. But he also expressed frustrations that the level of rot damage was not revealed during the budget process.

He said that if elected officials were more aware of the integrity issues, it may have impacted discussions and led to a change in which line items were removed as both selectmen and finance members sought to curb costs in a challenging budget cycle. He added that by approving an appropriation now, it could appear as though the funding was sought outside the annual budget process.

“All that damage to that truck, that rot was not on the budget in June,” he said. “We didn’t see any of these pictures; we didn’t see any of that passion that a new truck needed. When we go through the process and eliminate the truck then the public sees a special appropriation three months later, what you are doing looks like you are circumventing the budget process.”

Urgo and Hill noted that the truck has been included in the department’s annual budget request since 2018, but was eliminated at different points in the process each year. Hill also noted that the manifold damage, which is the biggest issue, wasn't discovered until April after the budget process was already well underway. 

Carlson said although the timing isn’t great, he supported the initiative and would rather see the town move forward in a way that will not leave them short-handed if New England is hit with a bad winter.

“Since it is a plow truck, and we may be in for a bad winter, I would rather get the truck sooner than later,” he said.

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