New Philadelphia, Ohio - The New Philadelphia Fire Department will be adding six additional firefighters to its roster following the acceptance of a federal grant for fire and emergency response staffing.
Members of the New Philadelphia City Council voted 5-2 on Monday to accept a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Department of Homeland Security.
The total amount of the grant is $879,542, which will be used to cover 75 percent of the cost of the six new hires for the first two years and 35 percent of the cost in the third year. The cost to the city over the three-year period will be $546,742.
Voting against accepting the grant were council members Cheryl Ramos and Aimee May.
During the meeting, Ramos shared her concern about the cost of the maintaining the new hires following the expiration of the grant, which has been estimated at approximately $500,000 per year, or about $85,000 per firefighter per year including salary and benefits.
Mayor Joel Day has said the cost of maintaining the firefighters would be offset by an overall reduction in overtime pay as a result of the increased staffing as well as the expected retirements of several firefighters. He noted that the city is also anticipating an increase in revenue from current and future economic growth.
Ramos said she did not believe that planned reductions in overtime pay would materialize and encouraged her fellow council members to work together with the city's administration “to develop a lasting solution, not just a bridge, to the problem rather than a temporary band-aid fix.”
She said a verifiable plan outlining how the city will cover the cost of maintaining the increased personnel has not yet been presented to council and questioned whether there would be future layoffs or an increase in taxes.
Day said Tuesday that he would not have supported applying for the grant if he believed the city couldn’t sustain the new hires after year four and expressed his displeasure about Ramos’ comments, which he referred to as “scare tactics.”
During the meeting, New Philadelphia Fire Chief Jim Parrish spoke out against what he called a misconception about the department’s overtime situation.
“I want to clear that up, and I want to clear that up publicly. Our firefighters are doing exactly what we’ve asked them to for many years. We as a community have decided instead of hiring the proper number of firefighters to adequately cover the calls in our community, many, many years back, prior to most of you being on council, we decided to pay overtime to compensate for that,” he said.
Chief Parrish noted that the number of calls has doubled since the last time the city hired additional firefighters, which was in 1999.
Among the council members who spoke out in favor of accepting the grant was Dean Holland, who pointed to the results of the 2015 referendum to build a new fire station as evidence of the community’s desire for adequate fire protection.
“In the first ward, that referendum passed by 60.2 percent. In the second ward, it was 64.9 percent. In the third ward, it was 63.6 percent, and in the fourth ward, it was 61.2 percent. It’s my opinion that the majority of those voters that voted were not voting just for the fire station. They were voting for an acceptable level of fire and EMS services,” he said.
Chief Parrish said the city is currently accepting applications to fill the additional positions and will be administering the Civil Service test on September 25 at 6 p.m. He said the goal is to complete the hiring process by January 1.
Stacey Carmany, Tusco TV