A federal grant that prevented layoffs in the city’s fire department in the past years, will come to an end beginning January 2016, raising the specter of possible layoffs in the department. Michael Postorino, fire chief, said late last week, he does not anticipate layoffs.
“You don’t anticipate any layoffs?” asked Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, during Thursday’s budget hearing for the department. Sayegh’s point blank question received a straight answer.
“I do not,” answered Postorino.
“Next year, we will roll into our costs of operations for our firefighters in excess of $5 million due to the expiration of the SAFER grant,” explained the city’s application to the state seeking financial assistance. The city received $6,975,860 in SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant in January 2013.
The grant allowed the city to protect 40 firefighters from layoff and hire nine more. That grant was set to end in 2015; however the city hired veterans allowing it to extend the grant.
“It will end in January 2016,” said Postorino. “Because we had veterans on they paid their salary for an additional year.”
One of the conditions attached to the grant is that after the grant expires, the city has to pick up the costs. “We’re responsible to pay for their salaries moving forward,” said Postorino.
“We’re responsible for the protection of those positions that were funded by the grant, but that grant doesn’t provide protection for the entire department,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. “If we can’t make up that revenue it’s going to result in layoffs in our fire department much like it happened in police.”
Morris called on the chief to begin planning and forecasting to minimize a potential crisis that may unfold after the grant expires. Postorino said coming retirements and attrition will go a long way.
Morris suggested Postorino reach out to federal representatives to seek out assistance. “We know the congressman is a friend of fire,” said Morris.
Indeed, congressman Bill Pascrell has rescued the department on more than one occasion. Pascrell, since 2001, has brought in $19.3 million in funding into the department. City officials are hoping the congressman will continue to be a friend of fire.