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October 2, 2013

Roseville council approves grant to hire six new firefighters

By Kevin Bunch
C & G Staff Writer

ROSEVILLE — The Roseville City Council unanimously accepted a grant to hire six new firefighters for the city for a period of two years during its meeting Sept. 24.

The $1,031,154 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was awarded to the city in early September, and City Manager Scott Adkins said it fully funds the normal wages and benefits for six firefighters starting in November and running through Nov. 29, 2015. It will not cover uniforms or overtime, he said.

“It’s only a two-year funding cycle, after which there is no more FEMA funding, so hiring should be contingent on our funding,” Adkins said. “So if there is no funding, the city is not required to keep the firefighters employed.”

Adkins said the grant could not be used for any other public safety measures — only hiring firefighters. He said city officials had asked FEMA if part of the grant could be used to retain current firefighters, but the grant, as written, was for new hires.

Scott Bala, president of the Roseville Firefighters Union, said he believed it would be an easy decision to simply use the grant as intended and hire six firefighters. He said the department had gotten a previous FEMA grant in 2010 to hire four employees, and the money from that runs out this year.

“Six new employees would bring our numbers back up,” Bala said. “This is an amazing opportunity for our city to restore those staffing levels, and it goes a long way toward helping protect the citizens of Roseville.”

The staffing will increase from 38 to 44.

Bala said it would increase the daily staffing levels by two additional people and eventually allow the department to operate its third ambulance regularly, instead of keeping it only as an alternate for when another one is being repaired or maintained.

“It is free money from the federal government,” he added. “It’s not often you get to see that money sent to (the federal government) come back to be used in the local community.”

Councilman Michael Switalski asked if there were any revenue estimates on what the city may bring in running the third ambulance. Fire Chief Mike Holland said he had a rough estimate of about $50,000 a year in local and mutual aid emergency runs with the third ambulance.

“I can confidently tell you we will increase service to the citizens of Roseville and reduce our response times in our most important service: EMS,” Holland said. “I know council has had to make some difficult decisions, but I’m excited for the opportunity that you can make one that will improve service for our citizens.”

Adkins also said the city would see significant savings in overtime for firefighters. He said that since January, firefighters had logged around 2,781 hours of overtime, and that if these extra six people had been on staff, that number would have been less than 500 hours.

“It’s a value of $150,000 to $200,000 in reduced overtime,” he said. “But that’s based on a minimum staffing of nine people, and this would enhance each platoon by two.”

Adkins said the grant does request that the city keep Fire Department staffing at the levels laid out in the grant, but said FEMA allows cities to request a waiver to leave a position unfilled. Roseville did this during the last grant cycle in 2010, he said.

Holland also believed this would give the city the opportunity to continue to run the third ambulance after the two-year period, and the council could take some time to look at finances for future staffing needs due to the money saved.

Councilwoman Jan Haggerty wanted to make sure the firefighters would be aware that their positions are contingent on the city’s funding levels at the end of the two-year period, and Holland said that was made clear in the 2010 grant’s hiring process and would be again.

He added that he has been successful getting these staffing grants so far, and he planned on submitting for a retention grant to FEMA for 2015. Holland said he knows out-of-work firefighters who would have no problem taking on a job they know may be limited to only two years, and that Roseville is an excellent place for young firefighters to get solid experience.

Councilman Salvatore Aiuto said he believed this would also be a net positive for the city’s pension fund, as the new hires would be adding money to the fund while not staying long enough to pull money from it.

Holland said the hiring process is to get underway immediately.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kevin Bunch at kbunch@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.