This picture provided by Pierce Manufacturing Inc. depicts the type of heavy duty aerial ladder truck that Ocean City is buying from the Wisconsin company. By Donald WittkowskiOcean City is buying a million-dollar fire truck that will improve the fire department’s ability to fight high-rise blazes.The $1.1 million heavy duty aerial ladder truck will replace an aging fire truck plagued by mechanical problems that have cost the city tens of thousands of dollars in repair bills in the past year alone, city officials said.By a 6-0 vote Thursday night, City Council approved a contract to buy the new ladder truck from Pierce Manufacturing Inc. of Appleton, Wisc. The truck will be delivered sometime next year.Council’s vote came despite pleas from the former head of a government watchdog group to delay the purchase until an analysis could be done on the condition of a nearly 20-year-old fire truck that the new one will replace.However, city officials stressed that the new fire truck will be a centerpiece of public safety. City Business Administrator Jim Mallon called it “a good piece of equipment that keeps our residents protected.”In an interview after the Council meeting, Mallon explained that the truck’s 107-foot-high boom arm is needed to fight high-rise fires that could strike the taller hotels and condominiums in town. He also noted that it will give firefighters the ability to hover over smaller buildings, such as homes, and douse them with a spray of water.City Business Administrator Jim Mallon said the new ladder truck will enhance public safety.The new fire truck continues the major upgrades Ocean City has been making with the fire department this year. In August, the department celebrated the grand opening of a new $2.1 million fire station on 29th Street and West Avenue that replaced a crumbling and storm-ravaged firehouse dating to the 1950s.Fire Chief Jim Smith said in an Aug. 28 memo attached to the City Council agenda that the department has struggled with the existing heavy duty aerial ladder truck, a 1999 model. He stated in the memo that the truck is “aging and becoming a mechanical concern.”Smith did not attend Thursday’s Council meeting, but Mallon detailed the existing ladder truck’s mechanical problems in response to pointed questions from Michael Hinchman, the former president of the local watchdog group Fairness In Taxes and a frequent critic of city spending.According to Mallon, the fire department has spent more than $60,000 since 2016 for repairs to the existing ladder truck, as well as another fire vehicle that also dates to 1999.Mallon told City Council that the existing ladder truck sometimes must be sent out of town for repairs. He also said it is so old that its trade-in value is just $75,000.“That tells you it’s not a very good piece of equipment,” Mallon said.But Hinchman urged Council to delay buying the new truck until an analysis could be done on the maintenance costs of the old ladder truck and how often it is used for fighting fires.“You’re responsible for spending our money wisely,” Hinchman told the Council members.Hinchman said he agreed that the city needs a “first class fire truck.” But at the same time, he asserted that a cost analysis would show whether a new truck was truly needed at this time.“I don’t say that it’s not a good purchase,” he said.Hinchman also questioned whether Council was spending money on the fire truck in an “undisciplined and uninformed fashion.”As he has done in the past, Hinchman called on Council to form an advisory committee, comprised of experts in their field, to guide the city in its capital spending.Hinchman left the Council meeting after making his comments. Although Hinchman was no longer in the room, Mallon and members of Council defended the fire department and Smith against Hinchman’s criticism.City Council voted 6-0 to buy the new aerial ladder truck for the fire department.Councilman Keith Hartzell said he welcomed questions from Hinchman about the city’s spending practices. But Hartzell added that he was offended by Hinchman’s “insinuation” that Smith may have had “ulterior motives” for wanting the new fire truck.“I know Jim Smith well,” Hartzell said. “He’s a competent professional.”Mallon also said he believed Smith had done the proper research to justify the need for a new fire truck.Council has been studying the need and cost for a new fire truck for years, so it was hardly a snap decision to buy one, Hartzell said.Councilmen Michael DeVlieger and Tony Wilson also spoke in favor of buying the new fire truck. DeVlieger said it will provide even more protection for both the city and the firefighters.“I think it makes sense at this point,” DeVlieger said.In other business Thursday, Council gave final approval to an ordinance that brings Ocean City in line with the federal government’s new flood maps for the National Flood Insurance Program.Utilizing the latest mapping technology, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is updating the nation’s flood maps for the first time since 1984 to reflect the current flooding risks to coastal communities.Ocean City’s new ordinance will update the town’s existing flood damage prevention program to comply with FEMA’s new mapping requirements taking effect on Oct. 5. It will allow Ocean City to remain in the National Flood Insurance Program, which gives local homeowners discounts on their flood insurance policies.City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said flood insurance premiums will not increase as a result of changes to the FEMA maps.