Cuts forcing $3 million grant writer to retire

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Retiring Allen Park Fire Department grant writer Tammy Jones was in the driver’s seat when it came to landing a grant to buy this truck for the city.

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – The loss of an employee because of budget considerations likely will translate into additional revenue lost to the city in the coming years.

Grant writer Tammy Jones is among 16 employees who have accepted an early retirement incentive from the city in order to help avoid layoffs. Her skills have netted over $3 million in grants for the city and Downriver since 2001.

“It has been very rewarding to make all these wonderful things happen,” Jones said.

Grants she has acquired for Allen Park range in size from $600 grants for senior citizen smoke detector battery purchases to $750,000 this year for an aerial ladder bucket truck The Fire Department in 2008 got a much-needed pumper truck with a $275,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant she helped procure. The new truck also eliminated payments for costly repairs to keep the old truck running. Extrication equipment worth $23,500 was purchased in 2008 with an AFG grant.

Fire Chief Mark Hogrebe also noted one of the last grants Jones helped land, for $117,000 in equipment. He called it “just enormous for the great things we can purchase with it,” including thermal imagers and laptop computers.

“Our equipment is so old,” he said, “and we take good care of our stuff. (But) the equipment we have is older than some of the guys that work here.”

Jones’ efforts also netted $100,000 for a switchover generator in 2006 to provide power for the Fire, Public Works and Water departments.

The entire area has benefited from her grant-writing skills. In 2005 the Downriver Mutual Aid Fire Departments received a $461,000 Urban Areas Security Initiative Grant for laptop computers, printers and training.

“They’re all a thrill,” Jones said of the grants she’s written, although one stands out in her mind as a favorite.

“This last aerial truck was by far the best,” she said. “As soon as it arrived at the station, they gave me a ride up in the bucket and I looked over the city.”

It’s a place where Jones has worked for nine and a half years, five with the Fire Department. She attended special grant writing training classes in Austin, Texas, last year to become qualified through testing procedures of the Grant Professionals Certification Institute, the certification arm of the American Association of Grant Professionals. She is one of seven people in Michigan certified by the association as highly trained. Nationwide, 256 people have achieved that designation.

Her retirement already has resulted in lost revenue. City officials had to turn down a $250,000 AFG grant they were offered to rehire previously laid-off firefighters because the early retirement of Jones and two fire captains, whose positions reportedly will not be filled, have temporarily forestalled additional layoffs.

Ten members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees from the water, public safety and clerical job areas are taking earlier retirements, which will reduce the city’s budget for salaries and benefits. Fire Capt. John Barstad, a 26-year veteran of the department, and Fire Capt. Gregory Pinkowski, with 25 years, are retiring early, as are four court employees.

Jones plans to continue writing grants on a contract basis for cities and agencies and has formed her own company, American Grants. She also is applying to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a grant-writing job.

Jones’ husband, Larry, retired two years ago from the Police Department, and the couple may move to their cabin in northern Michigan. It would be a major move, as Allen Park has been her home since she was a young child. She graduated from Allen Park High School and attended Madonna University.

Hogrebe would like to hire Jones to write grants on a contract basis in the future, but is uncertain if the city will have enough money for him to do so. But that won’t be the only reason he’ll be sad to see her go.

She also handled the department’s payroll, licensing and state reporting requirements, as well as incoming calls from the public, which freed up time for Hogrebe and the fire captains.

Hogrebe is unsure if the future budgets will contain enough money to pay for someone to answer phones, let alone a person with Jones’ level of expertise for recognizing and referring emergency calls to the right people.