City mulls fire grant acceptance

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK — There was little question the Fire Department would welcome the chance to add three firefighters to the current roster, but before accepting a federal grant, city council last week delayed a final decision.

“There are many, many pros, and just a couple of cons,” Mayor Patricia Diaz Krause said. “We are waiting for more in-depth information. Overall it’s a great idea and great opportunity.”

On July 6 the Fire Department was approved for a nearly $600,000 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration. The funds would cover the salary and benefits of three firefighters for two years. The current 27 firefighters on staff has been reduced by three in recent years due to retirement, and the positions were not replaced due to budget challenges.

Whether the grant would burden the city more than the budget could handle — during and after the period of the grant — remains in question. Nearby Taylor debated acceptance of the same grant, for a greater dollar value, out of concern that the stipulations would add to already strained finances.

City council members aired doubts and questions Monday, and tabled the decision until July 28, by which time Fire Chief Paul Murray will have provided city council and administration with more details on the grant and its requirements.

“The additional information will give us the entire scope of the grant,” Diaz Krause said.

Murray told the council that three more firefighters would bring the department in line with National Fire Protection Association guidelines. The need was not in question as much as any associated costs: Last month the city approved a budget that reflected a $1 million decrease in general fund revenues. Among officials’ concerns is that conditions of the grant do not allow any adjustments or layoffs during the period of the funding.

Diaz Krause said the council weighed in with objections, and agreed that more information was needed.

“It’s the sensible thing to do,” Diaz Krause said. “I hate snap judgments and snap decisions. Whether we vote yes or no, at least all the information will have been analyzed.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)