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Ashland drops $700,000 firefighter grant

Ashland city officials have turned down a grant worth more than $700,000, because it required a large match from the city, money that is not budgeted.

The grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, titled Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response, totaled $712,132 and was intended to cover the costs of employing three new firefighters over the course of three years.

According to the City Administrator Kelly Madding, the grant application had not been approved by the City Council, a process required for every grant. She said at the time the grant application was submitted, the city’s fire chief and finance director were both new and there was an interim city administrator. She suggested the grant application slipped through the city’s process because of all the new hires.

“It was circumstances of having new people,” Madding said, “… and I think there was some confusion about getting the grant application in front of City Council. So, it didn’t come in front of City Council and it’s required to.”

The funding was rejected because it would have required the city to contribute $442,676, bringing the total staff expense to $1,154,808. The city also would have been expected to keep the new hires on staff after the initial three years.

Madding said the matching money wasn’t in the budget and Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi agreed that there weren’t enough available resources to fund the new positions.

“We looked at the budget, but we didn’t have the resources for the match,” Madding said. “Keep in mind that the council authorized three new positions in 2016, and we hired those firefighters in 2017… I wish we had gotten that grant two years before, because we could have used it to pay for the firefighters that we hired.”

In the usual process, staff presents the grant proposal to the City Council and would pursue it only if authorized by the council.

“Ideally, staff wouldn’t spend a lot of time filling out a grant application unless the council had said yes, in which case they could move forward with it,” Madding said.

Madding said after a conversation with D’Orazi, she doesn’t think the fire department will ask for additional staff this year.

“We have the staff capability to deal with the majority of our call volume and when we have more calls than we have staff for we rely on our partners, like fire District No. 5 and Mercy Flights,” Madding said. “If we had more staff we would always be able to do more, we could have more programs, etc., but in terms of our calls… I think we are covering our calls adequately.”

D’Orazi said his department could use more firefighters, but he recognized the funding issue.

“Based on call volume and firefighter safety and community risk, it’s something I plan to address to City Council at the appropriate time,” he said. “One good thing that we do have is mutual aid with our partners in the area.”

He said it’s his job to ensure the council understands the tasks his department is asked to take on.

“It’s not just emergency response, it’s a lot of the other events such as community outreach programs, community risk analysis inspections, things like that that they need to have a clear picture of,” D’Orazi said. “… what Ashland Fire and Rescue can do and what we maybe need to look at to address some gaps in community risk. This is just something every fire department should be doing on a regular basis.”

He said his goals in the next biennium include educating the city’s policy makers and exploring funding options.

“Obviously, we have to deal with the limited amount of funding that’s available,” D’Orazi said. “Part of my job is to put these things in front of them, to offer maybe some alternatives, to look at additional revenue generating types of programs.”

D’Orazi said if the timing and circumstances worked out, the fire department would like to reapply for the grant in the future.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

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