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Shelby Township

January 29, 2013

Shelby Township fire chief outlines capital improvement plan

By Brad D. Bates
C & G Staff Writer

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — After 22 years as a Shelby Township firefighter, Fire Chief James Swinkowski is no stranger to saving the day or saving lives, but as chief, he’s looking at a different kind of saving.

One of Swinkowski’s first plans of action as chief was to institute a capital improvement plan for his department to ease the burden of large-ticket purchases for infrastructure and equipment.

“The whole capital improvement plan is something I looked at, going into (2013) budget sessions,” Swinkowski said of the evolution of the plan, which partially stemmed from the practices that former Fire Chief Gene Shepherd instituted.

“There are a lot of initiatives (Shepherd) started just (monitoring) the operating day-to-day line items to get a better understanding (of the budget),” Swinkowski added. “And the capital improvement plan is taking that to the next level.”

Swinkowski said the biggest savings would be seen with the new plan’s ability to make purchases, such as the recent acquisition of a $950,000 engine with cash from savings, rather than incurring bond debt.

“We’re saving 10 years on interest by paying cash on vehicles,” Swinkowski said, noting that the plan will replace those interest payments with long-term savings deposits.

“The (truck) we just bought for $950,000, we’re going to start putting money away now, so in 20 years when it needs replacing, it’s there.”

Swinkowski also said the plan would eliminate large fluctuations within his department’s year-to-year budgets and create an easier balance sheet to plan and save with.

“When I took over, I looked at our 2012 budget, and we had a $750,000 budget for vehicle replacement, and the 2013 budget had $80,000 or $90,000 budgeted for vehicles,” Swinkowski said. “And in a couple of years, it goes back up, then it goes back down.

“I figured what the annual replacement (cost) was, if I were to save money for each vehicle,” Swinkowski said of how he devised the formula to save for the “annual costs for engines and all the vehicles.”

“We’re going to start making a static deposit, so we know what we have to put away each year to replace each vehicle,” Swinkowski added. “By doing this and looking 10 years out, we want to maintain a positive balance in our reserve fund, in case of something catastrophic.”

Along with equipment, Swinkowski said that the same approach could be extended to the upkeep of the department’s four fire stations.

“I’ve got four buildings, and they have roofs that need to be replaced, and it’s going to be expanded to computers,” Swinkowski said of the some of the projects that could fall under the plan.

“Computers last five years, and I’m already planning on replacements. We’ve made it, so I’m buying a set amount of computers each year.”

While he could not yet place an exact dollar amount on the savings that could be possible, Swinkowski said another benefit of the plan is its ability to remain fluid and adjust to changes in market prices and department needs.

“If we buy a truck, and it’s cheaper … and we save $7,000, what we can do is reduce the following year’s deposit by that amount and keep that money,” Swinkowski said.

Township Supervisor Richard Stathakis said that he was so impressed by Swinkowski’s plan that he will recommend the township “emulate” the Fire Department’s program as it puts the final touches on its capital improvement plan.

“We like his capital improvement plan to the point we are going to use that as the best practice,” Stathakis said. “We are going to emulate his idea on a broader scale. We’re going to follow him.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brad D. Bates at bbates@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.