MANCHESTER, NH – In a unanimous vote on Tuesday night, the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) approved a request from Manchester Fire Department Chief Ryan Cashin for the city to pursue a FEMA Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant, ignoring a committee recommendation last month.
If successful, the up to $4 million in grant funding would allow Cashin to hire up to 12 new firefighters, helping the city meet National Fire Protection Association recommendations.
Last month, the BMA Committee on Community Improvement voted down a recommendation for Cashin’s request. However, several members of the board such as Ward 5 Alderman Anthony Sapienza were uncertain why Cashin would not be allowed to try for the grant given that there is no guarantee the city would win the grant and it could still turn down the grant money if it did win the grant.
“I think we’re sending the wrong message to all department heads with this. We should tell them to find grants,” said Sapienza. “Every dollar from a grant is a dollar the taxpayers don’t have to pay.”
Sapienza added that he felt that this grant had “the fewest strings attached that he had ever seen.”
Ward 7 Alderman Ross Terrio, one of the committee members who voted against the recommendation last month, joined Ward 12 Alderman Kelly Thomas in concerns about the long-term future of the new firefighters if the grant funding request is successful. Specifically, his worries revolved around either laying off the new firefighters once the grant funding ended or adding their new salaries to the general fund budget.
Cashin explained either of those scenarios could be avoided by a mix of not replacing retiring firefighters and then shifting what was their salaries to the new firefighters and an adjustment in funds from overtime pay.
Although specifics on what is required for the grant are not available until March, Cashin told the board that he expects that the process will be similar to previous years and that an early start could help the department’s odds of success. Cashin added that he has been working with nearby departments who have been successful for guidance on how to win the grant, stating that their recommendation was that his earlier requests did not seek to hire enough new firefighters.
An amendment by BMA Chairman Joseph Kelly Levasseur to report back immediately if the process requires a tiered grant passed, with only Alderman At-Large Dan O’Neil opposing.
Cashin told the board that he expects to file the grant proposal to FEMA approximately six to eight weeks after details are released in March and expects to hear a result within 12-18 months.