In wake of grant loss, council considers city funds for firefighters

Fire Station No. 1

Council members will consider hiring six firefighters at their next meeting Oct. 17 after receiving word about the loss of a federal grant previously funding a dozen responders.

The Hollister Fire Department recently failed to receive federal funding through the SAFER grant, which would have provided $1,145,000 per year and extended funding for 12 firefighter positions. In 2014, the department received the federal grant of $2.2 million, which provided the funding to staff 12 firefighters. SAFER stands for “Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response.”

During a special meeting Monday, Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo showed in a slideshow that a six-firefighter hire would put the fire department’s budget at $6,356,074. Salaries would be $2,921,728 and overtime would be an estimated $325,000, with overtime making up around 5 percent of the department’s budget.

Another slide in the presentation showed there are currently 28 firefighters in the department, which has a budget of $7,001,074, including $1,150,000 for new fire vehicles. Without the inclusion of new fire vehicles, the current budget is $5,851,074. Salaries are $2,250,060 and overtime is $1,040,000, with overtime making up around 18 percent of the department’s budget.

The difference in salaries between the two proposals is about $671,000.

The six-firefighter proposal doesn’t account for Measure W, which would extend the 1 percent sales tax another 20 years. The tax, which was approved in 2008 and extended in 2012, generates more than $4 million annually to the city’s general fund budget of about $20 million. Major cost cuts would happen throughout the city if Measure W fails to pass.

“If Measure W doesn’t pass, it won’t expire until two years from now,” Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said in a phone call with the Free Lance. “We’ll have time to step back and say, ‘Okay, let’s draw up the next plan and see what we’re going to do.’”

All of this comes after Congressional candidate Jimmy Panetta stated last week during an election forum that the fire department failed to receive the SAFER grant due to the application not being detailed enough.

Panetta’s campaign staff later clarified in an email to the Free Lance that the candidate “understands that these grants are very competitive, so we need to make sure that our applications are the most thorough and make it to the top of the pile. His point was that we need to work together to advocate for our region so that we can compete with others and keep these resources in our district.”

City Manager Bill Avera addressed speculation about staff failing to turn in the application on time at the meeting.

“The City of Hollister hires a consultant that was the one that prepared not only the original grant, but also the extension,” Avera said. “It would not be in his best interest to not provide the information, to not submit the application on time. To have a completed application, I should say. My understanding is that he received three out of the four applications in our area that he did apply for.”

Avera reminded council members and the audience that the City of Hollister has received a water tender through previous SAFER grant funding.
“I want to make sure that everybody’s clear and understands that we are successful in grants, and have been successful in grants including the SAFER program,” he said.

Avera ended the meeting saying a report will go before the council at their next meeting on Oct. 17 for the recommendation to hire six firefighters through a supplemental appropriation of funds.

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