McMinnville officials rejected a SAFER grant Tuesday night that would have likely prevented them from laying off any firefighters for at least two years.
The controversial grant ended with minimal discussion and did not make it out of committee.
“I make a motion that we pass on this grant,” said Safety Committee chairman Clair Cochran.
Committee member Everett Brock seconded the motion. With Alderman Rick Barnes absent from discussion, the two unanimously voted to send the grant back.
Totaling $182,866, the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant from FEMA would have paid the salary and benefits of two firefighters for two years. Also, it would have required the city to maintain its current number of firefighters during those years.
City attorney Tim Pirtle says if the city accepts the grant and falls below 30 employees in the fire department, the city would have to apply for a waiver. If the waiver is not given, the city would be in violation of the grant agreement.
After the meeting, Brock said he did not feel comfortable giving the federal government control over the city’s employee level in the fire department.
“We felt it would be better not to do this,” he said. “We like getting free money, but this had some major strings attached. The federal government would have control over our employee level in the fire department and that was something we just did not want to do.”
Passing on the grant does not mean Fire Station 2 will definitely be shut down, according to Brock.
“Us passing on the grant has nothing to do with Station 2, absolutely nothing to do with it. It has to do with us controlling our own destiny. This does not mean we will close Fire Station 2.”
McMinnville Firefighters Association president Brad Weaver says he’s disappointed by the decision.
“I feel it’s unfortunate the Safety Committee declined the SAFER grant and the city isn’t able to capitalize on this great opportunity,” said Weaver. “Mayor Norman Rone and Chief Kevin Lawrence worked hard to obtain this grant which would have saved the city a substantial amount of money. The grant would have improved firefighter safety and subsequently made the citizens of the community safer.”
The committee passed on the grant, which means the full board will not get to vote on the measure. FEMA will be informed of the city’s decision to not accept the grant.