Officials say budget health makes new emergency equipment possible

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

They stopped traffic in a major show of force today. Emergency vehicles headed for the departments of public safety and public works lined up around city hall. Fire trucks, dump truck, street sweepers, front loaders, ready for deployment in a city that hasn’t seen this much new emergency hardware in one place in decades.

“I’ve been here 33 years in the city and county and this is the first time I’ve seen this magnitude of equipment that was purchased. And it’s good,” said Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose.

Some of the city’s fire trucks date back 30 years. These are all state of the art, city officials say, including Hazmat trucks with radiation detectors, medical and communications equipment. A hundred-foot aerial ladder that the fire chief says will be critical as downtown continues to grow upwards.

“These three ladders, they’re well-equipped and able to reach higher heights, which will assist us with accessing the high-rise buildings and the future high-rise buildings that are here to come,” said Fire Chief Rufus Jackson.

This stuff ain’t cheap, obviously, and while federal grants paid for some of it, the mayor says a lot of it was paid for by the city, which, in and of itself, is news.

“We had a $93 million deficit, a $50 million structural one,” noted Baraka. “We still have economic issues so I don’t want people to believe that we’re rolling in the dough. We’re just not in the same place where we were in. Moody’s upgraded us to a positive outlook, which is not grounds for celebration, but it’s better than where we were.”

Better than a negative outlook, for sure, which would cost the city more to bond, or borrow, for the nearly $6 million needed to get all this cool new stuff. And with a nod to past political perils, the mayor is beginning his second term by addressing what became the one major issue he faced in his otherwise easy reelection — litter and snow removal.

“I can’t say too much about us being able to buy our own street sweepers, buy our own plows and garbage trucks,” said Baraka wryly, “because we were severely handicapped and at the behest of outside vendors and the prices that they charged us because we simply did not have the equipment to any of this stuff ourselves.”

Officials say the city could see close to $8 million in savings from getting rid of the vendors alone, which is obviously important, but the administration says the broader message is that Newark is joining the rest of the state. Handling its business like a state’s largest city should.