CUMBERLAND — The final year of a three-year federal grant that made way for the hiring of eight additional firefighters in 2011 has arrived, leaving the city looking for ways to cover the final-year costs as spelled out in the grant.
The ongoing fiscal budget meetings for the city will have to include ways to foot the bill for the final year of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, Grant.
The SAFER Grant awarded the city $806,316, allowing it to add eight firefighters. The caveat was that the grant paid for the firefighters for two years, but required the city to pay the final year before the grant expires.
“I was supportive at the time. Now it needs reviewed and it comes down to how our limited dollars will be stretched,” said Councilman David Kauffman.
The city’s fiscal budget, which runs from July 1 to June 30, is being hammered out for fiscal 2014, which is the final year for the grant.
In the midst of fiscal turmoil at the time, the grant came at the right moment for the city.
“We were forced to make cuts then. The SAFER people really put us at the level we used to be at,” said Cumberland Fire Chief Donald Dunn.
The city, which will face a critical decision on the future retention of the firefighters in 2014, is confident it can cover the costs in the upcoming fiscal year from large savings it has made in the reduction of overtime.
“Before the extra staff from the grant, we paid about $280,000 a year in overtime. Now it’s down in the 50s ($50,000 range),” said Dunn.
Dunn said that the department has saved between $400,000 and $440,000 in overtime over the last two years.
“We believe the savings in overtime will cover at least half of the cost for this coming year,” said Mayor Brian Grim.
“We are happy with the group we have. They also help with the ambulance. We average 13 ambulance calls a day,” said Dunn.
The city is looking for ways its fire department could raise additional funds.
“We are looking for other revenues and how other cities are doing it. Things like inspections, false alarms, hazmat (hazardous materials) cleanup and other things might be a way to add to revenue,” said Dunn.
Grim is hopeful but cautious about the future of the SAFER workers.
“Looking at that fourth year, we will have to look at retirements and other openings. We are hoping we can keep them,” said Grim.
Kauffman hopes that long-term planning may result in keeping some or all of the additional firefighters.
“We’re making better long-term financial decisions. Sometimes even expenditures can also create a savings if calculated properly or planned,” said Kauffman.
“The firefighters have been doing a great job,” added Kauffman.
With the expiration of the terms of the grant on June 30, 2014, the city will be forced to decide the fate of the eight SAFER positions.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.