Saturday, August 27, 2016
By Ed Runyan
The announcement that the Warren Fire Department has been awarded a two-year, $2.4 million federal grant that will pay the salary and benefits of 12 to 15 firefighters for two years leaves city officials with a few questions to answer.
Among them: Should the city accept the grant, and will it affect the outcome of the city’s request of voters for additional income-tax revenue in November?
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, announced the award of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighters grant to Warren in an email Thursday, saying the award “is great news for firefighters working to protect the Warren community.”
The announcement contained a comment from Mayor Doug Franklin, saying the city is “extremely grateful for the opportunity to bring the fire department up to adequate staffing levels.”
Franklin later Thursday told The Vindictor’s broadcast partner, WFMJ-TV 21, that the grant doesn’t eliminate the need for the half-percent income tax on the ballot.
“The SAFER [Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response] grant provides some temporary relief, short-term two-year relief for some of the staffing issues at the department,” Franklin said. “However [the grant] doesn’t address our issues with police and our roads issues.”
Before the grant, 10 firefighter positions were on the line if the levy failed.
Fire Chief Ken Nussle said Thursday the grant is apparently identical to the one the city received in 2010 that allowed the city to retain 10 firefighters and hire 14 more. That 2010 grant, however, was for $5 million. He said he wasn’t sure yet how many firefighters the new grant would allow him to add or retain.
Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-at large, said Warren being awarded the SAFER grant raises some questions. The grant requires the city to employ a specific minimum number of firefighters.
At the same time, the city administration has said the city will lay off firefighters if voters reject the half-percent income-tax increase.
“Then what do you do?” Colbert said.
“I wouldn’t say it [the grant] creates a problem. It just has to be explained,” Colbert said.
Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at large, said the requirements of the grant might “hamstring” the city in its decision-making if layoffs become necessary.
Furthermore, Rucker didn’t like the way the grant program, when it was used the last time, led to short-term employees in the fire department – firefighters who accepted jobs under the grant but only stayed a short time because the job was not permanent.
“I don’t like hiring people to lay them off,” she said. “That’s probably because of my union background.”