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EMS Grants News and Articles
Date last updated: Wednesday, September 19, 9:36 PST
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Mayor vetoes SAFER grant to hire more firefighters
The Union Leader
MANCHESTER, N.H. — A federal grant to hire eight firefighters was rejected at a Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting Tuesday, after Mayor Ted Gatsas vetoed the measure.
Supporters of the grant came up one vote short of the 10 votes necessary for an override. The vote was 9-4 in favor of accepting the grant, as it was for the override vote.
The grant would have come through the SAFER program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The city finance director corrected earlier information about the grant - that the city would be obligated to keep the firefighters for a third year. That's not the case, but the city would be required to maintain the same complement, 203 firefighters, over the course of the grant, meaning the city would have to hire firefighters to fill any vacancies during that time.
Gatsas has been staunchly opposed to the grant, along with another to fund five new police officers. He said given the increase in pension costs for the 2014 fiscal year, revealed this week, along with the problems facing the schools, now was not the time to be increasing the size of the fire department.
"Now we're saying schools are not the priority but increasing the complement of the fire department is. Based on everything we've heard, there's going to be a 12 million dollar increase in retirement costs," he said.
However, Aldermen Garth Corriveau said that the fact that the grant would not obligate the city to keep the firefighters for a third year made it all the more advantageous.
"With the pensions, I will not deny we're looking at a dire situation, but I believe the pension situation is going to make grants like these more important. We actually may become more dependent than ever on these grants," he said.
Other aldermen pointed to the recent fire at a Middle Eastern market on Massabesic Street, and the spate of suspected arsons in the city, to underscore the need for more firefighters.
Fire department officials told the aldermen that it was possible to apply for a hardship waiver from FEMA in order not to comply with the requirement to hire new firefighters to replace those who leave during the course of the grant. A tax cap, such as Manchester has, could be grounds for such a waiver, an official said.
Should a waiver not be accepted, the city would have to pay back the full amount of the grant.
Gatsas said he didn't think firefighters would or should be hired for only two years, a prospect that he called "awful."
The four aldermen opposed to the grant and who voted for the override were Jim Roy, Tom Katsiantonis, Phil Greazzo and Joe Kelly Levasseur. Those in favor of the grant were Corriveau, Dan O'Neil, Patrick Arnold, Barbara Shaw, William Shea, Ed Osborne, Pat Long, Ron Ludwig and Joyce Craig.
The outcome of the vote was likely affected by the resignation of Russell Ouellette.
In an opinion that several aldermen criticized, the city solicitor determined the margin for an override - 10 - did not change, despite the resignation.
The aldermen did, however, vote to approve a $625,000 COPS grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to hire five officers. The grant will cover the salaries and benefits for the new employees for two years, while requiring the department to maintain the positions for a third year.
The vote was 10-3, with aldermen Greazzo, Katsiantonis and Roy opposed. The mayor did not veto the vote.
Copyright 2012 Union Leader Corp.
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