An official hush has fallen over the controversial McMinnville Fire Department grant, but a meeting to discuss it has been set for Tuesday by city Safety Committee members.
“I would rather not comment on it until we have our discussion,” said Alderman Clair Cochran. “I don’t know all the particulars on the grant. I would like to have an open discussion about the grant and hear from Kevin.”
McMinnville Fire Department Chief Kevin Lawrence says he will be there to answer questions, but prefers not to discuss the controversy surrounding the grant until that time.
As for the grant, Lawrence says it was applied for last year after officials began discussing laying off eight firefighters from Fire Station 2 and closing it down. The application had two portions.
“One portion would fund the eight people that officials had talked about laying off,” Lawrence said. “The second portion was to fund the two positions that had been frozen. Those individuals were not laid off so we qualified for the second.”
The grant awarded was a three-year SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant from FEMA. While FEMA will fund hiring two firefighers for two years at a cost of $182,866, the city must pay for an additional year.
Bringing the controversy to a boil could be some of the wording in the grant contract. In accepting the grant, the city is required to maintain the same number of firefighters it currently has during the three-year grant process.
Wishing to remain anonymous because she fears retribution against her husband, who is a MFD employee, one woman says it is a shame city officials would “rather spend $50,000 to host a Bluegrass TV show” than maintain its level of fire service in the community.
“McMinnville’s citizens need to stand up against the city and let it be known they don’t want strictly a volunteer service for the fire department,” she added.
Safety Committee member Everett Brock says he looked into the possibility of laying off two of the city’s current firefighters and then rehiring them through the grant.
“At least that would help fund the department,” he said. “But, that’s not possible. I don’t see us keeping this grant.”
The Safety Committee meeting is scheduled Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Meetings are held on the second floor of city hall.