by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Huntington Can’t Afford Grant with Half Million Dollar Match, Scale Down Proposed by Finance Committee

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – The Finance Committee rendered a tough decision on a prospective grant that would add ten firefighters to the payroll. The first two years of the new hires salaries are covered by the grant, but in the third year (and beyond) , the city would need $515,000 for the positions.

Huntington Fire Chief C. Craig Moore indicated that the department had applied for the FEMA grant with the ten positions. However, Finance Chairman Steve Williams reminded Moore and those in attendance that council has not authorized staffing beyond an additional six positions.

The FEMA grants that essentially are two years funded by the agency and the final year funded by cities have apparently faced approval issues from other financially strapped cities. Chief Moore indicated that those cities with a grant under consideration had been asked to obtain council approval prior to consideration.

Both Williams and councilman Nate Randolph suggested that Moore inquire about a revised grant application that seeks only six firefighters . They would be used for additional staffing of aerial rescue teams. However, a motion to recommend the six additions died for lack of a second.  

However, an early observation by Councilman Jim Ritter, a strong public safety supporter, foretold rough waters for items requiring additional funds from the city.

Ritter , first, queries, “what if we don’t get the Home Rule payroll [tax],” then, he told Chief Moore, “Without [increased] revenue , I don’t see increases.”  Adding, “it scares me what the future holds for the city,” Ritter reminded those present that “you can’t go on and not give union employees a raise.”

Thus, the item goes to the full council without any recommendation from the committee.

“We believe the need is there,” Randolph stated, but due to the city’s financial straits he would not favor recommending the ten new positions.

Even council vice chairman Sandra Clements told Moore, “I don’t think we can commit one half million dollars” without knowing where revenues would pay for the increase(s).

The committee expressed reluctance to commit a future council to the half million dollars in the grant’s third year. For one, the uncertainty of the city’s tax and revenue streams remain an issue, whether or not the state home rule board approves the occupation tax and other adjustments or not. If approved, the city’s home rule authority expires the next year. Further, all of council will be up for election in 2012.

During the presentation, Chief Moore told the committee that his department would “have to ask for additional funding for fiscal 2011-2012.” He also stressed, “We’re shaking trees to find grants for our specific needs.”

While the FEMA grant received no recommendation, the finance committee  favorably recommended to the full council a  grant requiring no city money  for a fire rescue engine with extraction equipment ($450,000) for the Washington Blvd. fire station.

The department received committee support on re-arranging items within its current budget to purchase immediately needed communications and safety equipment.

In an accompanying Power Point presentation, HFD members made their case for improved equipment for fire fighters entering dark, burning buildings. In fact, the communications gear requested comes after two recent alarms at two downtown landmark basements. During calls to the Pullman Plaza and Keith Albee Performing Arts Center basements, firefighters discovered that their radio gear was inoperable due to not hitting the repeater.

The department asked for eight portable radios (@ $5,000) and a microwave tower link (@ $13,984), as well as adding “Rapid Intervention Team” (RIT) belts to standard firefighter equipment (102 @ $245.40 = $25,030.80), additional rope  elevated rescue equipment ($4,800) and three oxygen air packs for the reserve apparatus ( 3 @ $6,800 = $20,400). The total of these immediate safety purchases equal about $123,415.

Chief Moore told the committee, “I can pay for these right now with my budget. The band-aide will potentially save a live,” stressing that the no communication pockets had to be corrected before some firefighter gets hurt.

Williams verified that the fire chief could “move money within his current operating budget.”

With the chief’s nod in the affirmative, the committee recommended the interdepartmental budget revision.

However, the department has an avalanche of accrued equipment replacements. These range from motor vehicles to “pipes, ceiling and mold” issues at most of the city’s fire stations.