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February 5, 2013

Mayor mulls $2.79 million fire grant

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — In these lean financial times, it’s tough to imagine a city turning down $2.79 million in federal funds earmarked for hiring firefighters.

But Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, concerned about the costs of keeping the new employees after the grant expires, said he’s instructed Warren Fire Commissioner Wilburt “Skip” McAdams to accept the funds only if the terms can be amended to eliminate a financial burden going forward.

“We have to amend it so that we don’t get stuck being forced to spend money that we don’t have after the grant runs out in 2015,” Fouts said last week. “Right now, we’re committed to maintaining the level at 114 firefighters. We could temporarily go up by a large amount. We have to look ahead.”

Fouts pledged to keep the city’s current level of police and fire protection in place after voters overwhelmingly approved a 4.9-mills public safety proposal last August.

The fire department currently employs 111 firefighters and paramedics and has a total of 114 budgeted positions dedicated to emergency response.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistance to Firefighters Grant, awarded in December through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program, would enable the Warren Fire Department to hire up to 18 new firefighters.

McAdams said the SAFER grant was the first of its kind he’d received as a fire administrator. He said he would consult with peers in other communities about how best to meet or seek amendments to its terms, including any that deal with employment of newly hired firefighters beyond the life of the grant.

Fouts said he is mostly concerned about the potential impact of changes to the state’s personal property tax and what that would mean for the city’s finances.

The PPT, assessed to businesses for investments in things like equipment and machinery, could eventually be eliminated if Michigan voters approve a plan to replace it in 2014. Even still, officials said cities would only be able to receive a maximum of 80 percent of what they now get through the tax.

Fouts said Warren could eventually lose $11 million.

Scott Halleck, president of the Warren Professional Firefighters Union Local 1383, said any firefighters hired with grant funds would be made aware of the city’s financial position and its potential impact on their job security, going forward.

“Anyone getting hired in the next few years has to be aware of that,” Halleck said. “The union will know what the stakes are. The hope is, the gamble is that, in two years, things will improve to the point where maybe they won’t let anyone go.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.