RICHMOND — If officials did not pull the trigger on the purchase of a plow truck ahead of the winter season, the community would potentially have faced significant troubles trying to keep roads clear of ice and snow, Richmond Department of Public Works Director Scott Barber warned council members on Tuesday.
Fortunately for the town, Barber was able to secure the price and truck as long as the council ratifies the action at a future date, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said Tuesday night. Even then, with funding for the truck included in the capital improvement section of the budget, Ellsworth said Barber had authority to buy the truck as an emergency purchase related to safety.
Town staff, led by Barber, have secured the purchase and delivery of a 2023 Oxford white Ford F-750 diesel truck with plow for the coming season. The truck is one of three available through a Massachusetts dealership — Barber said one had already been sold — which led Barber to sign the agreement prior to council ratification. With only council President Nell Carpenter and councilman Ronald Newman present Tuesday, however, the measure was tabled until the council’s final meeting of the term on Dec. 6 due to a lack of quorum.
Barber said the town couldn’t wait any longer to commit, however.
“Stock units are really few and far between, and we had previously found one but another town came in and was able to make a decision quicker, and it was gone by the time we called back,” Barber told Carpenter and Newman.
“If we didn’t make a decision now, I guarantee that the truck would have been gone by the time I called back,” he said. “I signed a sales agreement to hold the truck, but now the time is coming where the vendor is going to want to know they are going to get paid for it.”
Although the council was unable to vote due to lack of quorum, Carpenter told those in the audience that Barber could share information with the council as long as no vote was taken. She indicated the council would likely support the measure Tuesday.
The purchase, which was tentatively approved during the 2022-23 budget process by allocating funds within the town’s capital improvement budget, was secured through Gervais Ford, a dealership located in Ayer, Mass., and will cost the town $124,947, according to a purchase contract provided by the town.
For the town, purchasing a new plow truck has been more than a year in the making already. Barber said DPW staff had set a replacement schedule for trucks that would have allowed for replacement of three vehicles over a three-year period. Due to the COVID pandemic, product shortages and price inflation, however, the purchase was delayed in order to seek a better deal.
Despite the patience the town has shown, Barber said Tuesday that it became clear the situation would not improve in the near future, and companies, including Gervais Ford, warned the town that they could not hold bid prices and that come Jan. 1, price increases of $8,000 to $10,000 for such equipment could be expected.
“With the way we have had breakdowns happening, there was one truck that waited in the shop through July and August for parts, and these were parts that should have been readily available,” Barber said.
With the town already a full year behind on purchasing, he said he wanted to get back ahead of the curve so that he isn’t asking the town to buy three trucks at once. With the new purchase, which is expected to be delivered by the third week of December, the town would move a 2007 model into a role as backup equipment.
Barber said he wouldn’t be asking for the truck if it weren’t truly necessary and noted that in 2022, the department still has a 1987 truck that serves a role in a few, limited situations. He said the purchase of a new truck would also provide considerable support at a time when the town has struggled to find willing vendors for snow removal.
Normally, the town would have seven vendors and five or six per diem drivers. Despite multiple bids, the town has only received interest from one vendor and one per diem driver ahead of the winter season.
“If we are having a busy winter, right now we would not be able to do what we are supposed to do,” Barber said.