A potential move to electric vehicles — some day — was a recurring theme in discussions as the selectmen reviewed police and fire department budget requests.

Both departments have budgets of roughly $5 million, and are looking for budget increases in the 3 percent range — 2.7 percent, to $5.5 million, for the police budget, and a 3.6 percent increase to $4.7 million for the fire department.

“There’s been a lot of talk about electric vehicles,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark.

The police budget for 2020-2021 doesn’t call for electric vehicles, but it would spend more than $120,000 on four petroleum-powered cars. The allocation would include: $34,000 for one black-and-white police cruiser; $28,000 for an unmarked vehicle; $34,000 to lease two other unmarked vehicles at $17,000 each; and about $24,000 for switching police equipment from the old cars to the new ones, or buying new equipment.

“I’m looking at keeping these cruisers a little longer,” Police Chief Jeff Kreitz told the selectmen. “It used to be three years, automatic.”


The $5.5 million police department request and $4.7 million fire department proposal are part of a combined town and school budget proposal for 2020-2021 that totals about $152 million — up more than three percent — at this point in the budget process.

The proposed budget would need a 3.7 percent tax increase.

The selectmen went through the budget police budget on Feb. 3, and the fire department budget on Feb. 5, as part of week of reviewing town departments’ budget requests. Selectmen will discuss the budget again the first week of March.

The Board of Finance will receive the selectmen’s budget for town departments, along with the Board of Education’s request for school spending, and begin two weeks of budget deliberations with a public hearing March 23

The finance board will send its 2020-2021 budget and tax rate proposal to town voters at the May 4 annual Town Meeting and May 12 budget referendum.

Cars idling

Kreitz told selectmen that police typically put 25,000 miles a year on a cruiser, but the wear and tear on them is much greater since they spend a lot of time parked with the engine running.

“The hours on these cars, the driving time on these cars — they’re running 24 hours a day,” Kreitz said.

Although electric vehicles are generally more costly to buy, some police departments have been experimenting with them since the operating costs are lower.

“The proposition is, not only do you save on gas, but maintenance — fewer moving parts,” said Selectmen Sean Connelly.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he’d floated the concept with Highway Department workers who do maintenance on town vehicles. They weren’t eager to start dealing with electric police cars.

“It was: ‘I don’t even want to work on them. You touch the wrong thing and get electrocuted!’” Marconi said.

Police Commissioner Nick Perna raised the potential pitfall of events like major hurricanes that can leave the electric grid out of service for long periods.

“If you had some kind of a crisis,” he said, “where you couldn’t get cars recharged.”

The discussion eventually settled on a consensus in favor of the wisdom of waiting.

“We might be better off letting other departments do the work,” said Police Commission member George Kain. “See how it goes.”


In Wednesday’s discussion with the fire department, Kozlak asked the question again: “Has there been any talk of electric vehicles?”

“Not yet,” said Fire Chief Jerry Myers.

Electric vehicles were also seen as impractical for police cars and ambulances, which run a lot of electrical equipment, and might not get much down time.

Recharging could be an issue “for us, driving to Danbury Hospital five, six, seven, ten times a day,” Assistant Fire Chief Mickey Grasso said.

“The technology just isn’t there yet,” said Selectman Bob Hebert.

Myers told the selectmen the town has three ambulances.

“We have a six-year replacement cycle,” he said.

A new ambulance would spend two years as the lead ambulance, two years as the back-up ambulance, and its two years as the reserve ambulance.

“Then we start looking to replace it,” Myers said.

Myers said anti-idling laws and policies may work to push more departments toward looking into electric vehicles.

The state DEEP has a three-minute limit on idling and Ridgefield has long had anti-idling rules which are supposed to be followed by school buses.

Of course, police and fire vehicles responding to emergencies aren’t going to be ticketed for idling. But not everything emergency services go to is an emergency.

“The police were saying when they’re out to monitor taking a tree down, a road job, it’s just out there idling,” Kozlark told the fire department delegation.

Grasso said some fire departments have a standard operating procedures to limit idling at scenes where there’s more than one vehicle.

“One truck stays on and the other trucks will be off,” Grasso said.

Fire inspections

The fire department’s $4.7 million operating request includes a $12,000 increase for fire inspections — from $47,000 to $59,000.

This would increase fire inspecting from 16 to 20 hours a week, Myers said.

The state code requires that individual condominium units be inspected, treating them as if they were apartments.

Even if buildings have sprinklers, there must be inspections. Setting up inspection times with condo unit owners is a time-consuming part of the process. The department tries to coordinate with the fire alarm company, which also does inspections.

“Keep in mind, because the alarm is working does not mean there aren’t other problems in the apartment — like blocked exists, or a hording situation,” Myers said.


The requested new police cruisers are part of the Police Department’s operating budget, even though many equipment purchases in the price range of the police cars would appear in the town’s capital budget, paid for with borrowing. That was a decision made years ago. The thinking was that replacement of some cars in the police fleet is an annual budget item — an annual expense — not something that comes up every few years.

The selectmen try to hold the capital budget two three or four million a year, but for 2020-2021 requests currently total over $8 million, including more than $3 million from the Board of Education.

The Police Department’s only capital budget request is $18,000 to replace its I-record system, which Kreitz said is used to record interviews of criminal suspects, as required by state statutes.

The fire department shows $364,000 in capital budget requests. These include: a $230,000 ambulance (with a $7,500 trade-in anticipated); $62,000 for firefighter protectives; $34,000 to replace a cardiac monitoring defibrillator; $20,000 for a CPR device; and $25,000 for a new boiler in the Ridgebury fire station.

Marconi told the fire department he’d delayed a request for a new truck for the fire marshal, moving it from next year to the year after — 2021-2022. He also had in mind reducing the proposed $46,000 cost by recycling a police car.

“I’m looking at the cost of an SUV from the police department, versus a brand new truck,” Marconi said.

“It’s do-able,” said Myers.

The town’s five year capital plan does show $2.3 million for architect plans for new accommodations for both the police and fire departments — but for the year after next, 2021-2022, not next year.