City wont seek grant for firefighters

First Posted: 12/18/2009

Mount Airy officials have decided not to seek a grant to hire nine extra firefighters, due to concerns about what might happen when that funding expires.
The city board of commissioners made the decision Thursday night before a large audience, including about 10 members of the fire department who watched from the back of the meeting room.
Its consideration of a proposal to seek the $650,000 federal grant was not on the agenda for the boards meeting. City Manager Don Brookshire explained that the city had just learned of the funds availability the day before, and the deadline for applying for them was 5 p.m. on Friday.
The money was offered through the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The goal of this program is to help local fire departments comply with federal operational standards established to ensure adequate staffing is in place to respond to emergencies.
Increased personnel that results allows for much shorter response times and ensures that enough firefighters are assembled at the scene of an incident.
Brookshire told the commissioners Thursday night that the proposed $650,00O grant would cover the expense of hiring the nine new firefighters for a two-year period. However, the catch is the municipality would be obligated to retain those personnel for at least one year after that at a cost of $325,000.
This requirement seemed to be a major sticking point among the commissioners, who expressed concerns about the future expense and the possibility of laying off fire department members if a struggling economy meant there was no funds to keep them.
Its an example of what level of services the citizens are willing to pay for, said Commissioner Todd Harris. He said the $325,000 would represent about one penny of the citys property tax rate.
And if the situation came down to it, Harris said, I couldnt lay off a firefighter.
Harris also pointed out that the city recently has been forced to delay major equipment and other expenditures because of budgetary constraints. We are way behind on our capital improvements in every department, he said. Harris added that he would rather see equipment and other needs addressed before more personnel are put on the payroll.
Commissioner Jon Cawley asked if any retirements are on the horizon in the fire department, which could offset new firefighters added, and Fire Chief Chip Osborne said none are expected.
Steve Yokeley, another board member, also inquired as to whether having the extra firefighters would lower fire insurance costs for property owners to the point they would offset higher taxes required to pay them.
Brookshire said that is a possibility, but could not be guaranteed.
After the discussion, the issue died due to no commissioners introducing a motion to apply for the grant.
Brookshire told the firefighters in attendance that the municipality appreciates their efforts, and that there could be more grant funding available next year for the new personnel. He said officials also might have additional time then to study the matter more fully and develop a better approach than was possible with this weeks tight time frame.

Granite Company Backed
In another matter Thursday night, the city commissioners unanimously approved a resolution of disappointment stemming from the apparent loss of an opportunity by a Mount Airy company to supply granite for the National September 11 Memorial in New York City.
N.C. Granite Corp. submitted a $5 million bid to provide the stone, but recent reports indicate that the job instead has been awarded to foreign firms, in Africa and Italy. This could result in layoffs by the local company, and has generated a furor that has included this areas congressional representative attacking the move in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Mount Airy officials weighed in on the matter Thursday night when their resolution opposing the foreign involvement was discussed.
It just broke my heart when I read about this, Mayor Deborah Cochran said. We need to make a lot of noise on this.
Brookshire, the city manager, referred to the city seal positioned on a wall above the commissioners chairs. That image includes four major industries associated with this area: tobacco, textiles, furniture and granite. Brookshire pointed out that outsourcing of jobs and other factors already have brought the decline of three of those.
By golly, they figured out a way to take the granite away and we dont like it, he said.
Commissioner Jon Cawley said he couldnt understand how foreign materials can be used in an American monument. He said it shows how the countrys leaders have let the people down.
We need to start looking out for ourselves, Cawley added. Maybe something like this will cause us to wake up.
Copies of the citys resolution of disappointment will be sent to officials including North Carolinas two U.S. senators, in an effort to alter the decision involving the memorial.
I think we ought to send it to the president as well, Cawley said.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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