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Youngstown council accepts $398K federal grant for firefighters

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By David Skolnick

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Funds will aid fire department with hiring, overtime, truck costs

By David Skolnick

skolnick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

City council accepted a $398,793 federal grant that will help offset much of the cost of hiring of four city firefighters and should slow down overtime expenses.

The acceptance of the money Tuesday also means the city won’t cut back on personnel and a truck at Fire Station No. 2 on West Indianola Avenue on the South Side, said fire Chief John J. O’Neill Jr.

Without the impending new hires – which will bring the department from 123 to 127 firefighters – the city was almost certainly going to be forced to cut back on personnel and a truck, he said.

“This will keep the truck operating,” O’Neill said. “Shutting it down is out of play. We’ll be able to run all 10 trucks, and we don’t have to scale back on personnel.”

Some city council members expressed concern at an Aug. 31 meeting that taking the grant would be an issue because it obligates the city to maintain a staffing level of 127 firefighters and the city is facing a potential budget crisis next year in its general fund.

The grant was initially for up to $398,793 with the city paying 25 percent of the cost of the new employees for the first two years and 65 percent in the third year.

However, O’Neill said Tuesday the city received a waiver from the federal government on the matching percentages while receiving the full amount of the grant.

The city was going to have to pay about $250,000 over the three years toward the four new firefighters’ salaries and benefits, O’Neill said. Because of the waiver, that amount will be reduced to about $162,000 with most of the cost coming in the third, and final, year, he said.

The department’s overtime budget was $130,000 for the year, and is over by $95,000 at $225,000, O’Neill said.

The department was on pace, before the grant, to spend another $200,000 in overtime, he said. Instead, only an additional $25,000 to $30,000 more will be needed, O’Neill said.

The legislation approved by council at Tuesday’s special meeting also authorized the board of control to enter into any contracts and agreements to use the grant money. The board of control – consisting of the mayor, finance director and law director – meets Thursday and could agree then to use the money to hire the firefighters.

The department will be able to hire the four new firefighters in about 10 days, O’Neill said.