City applying for $6 million grant to bring back laid off firefighters

December 15, 2009

Akron City Council Monday night approved legislation authorizing the mayor to apply for a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which could pay for the rehiring of some if not all of the 38 Akron firefighters laid off over the summer.

The grant money recently became available under the department’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program, aimed at helping cities maintain fully staffed safety forces. If awarded, the funds would pay 100 percent of the salaries and benefits for two years of the 38 fire fighters let go after concessions between the city and the firefighters union could not be reached.

Public Safety Committee Chair Jim Shealey (At Large) cautioned that if the grant is awarded – after a long and complicated application review process – the grant award may not recover all 38 fire fighters. That possibility leaves Shealey wishing that concessions had been made so that the city would not be in a position to compete against several other cities competing for the same pool of money to staff their own safety forces.

“My only problem is I wish we didn’t have anybody on layoff that had to rely on this grant because we might not get all 38 firefighters back,” Shealey said. “That is really sad that it had to happen this way. All that we can do is hope for the best.”

The city was forced to lay off the firefighters after the Akron Firefighters Union declined to forego longevity payments during negotiations that took place in late summer. Other city unions made concessions and were able to avoid layoff notices issued for 201 employees in the summer.

No matching city funds are required for the SAFER grant, except for covering any related administrative costs such as officer physicals, Shealey said.

The application deadline is Friday, and the city expects an answer in the spring.