Jamestown City Council once again tabled a resolution to hire eight new firefighters at its voting session.
Council member at large Jeff Russell made the motion, citing extenuating circumstances, following a lengthy discussion before a packed council chambers that included most of the members of the Jamestown Fire Department.
Council member at large Kim Ecklund cited financial concerns with the three-year $1.8 million SAFER grant, saying that costs presented to council for those three years is $2.1 million which didn’t include overtime costs, working out of title, and comp time.
She said in 2022, personnel expenses in the Fire Department were $250,000 over budget, “Talking financially, this grant will not provide all those previously mentioned items I just talked about as well as training, estimated at $46,000, uniforms estimated at $46,000, and other incidental expenses. While people don’t want to hear this, we as a council have to remain fiscally responsible and understanding the needs of our departments and empathetic to the future of Jamestown.”
Ecklund said based on these numbers, the city could be faced with a $450 to $500,000 total shortfall over the three years of the grant. She said the American Rescue Plan funds used to hire four firefighters in 2022 runs out the the last year of the SAFER grant, which leaves another $382,000 for the city to fund.
Ecklund said a second ambulance would bring in more revenue but running the two ambulances would not bring in the $750 to $900,000 needed. Deputy Fire Chief Matt Coon had informed Council previously that the estimated revenue from running two ambulances is about $400,000 total a year.
Council member Marie Carrubba commented that former City Comptrollers Joe Bellitto and Ryan Thompson had both previously stated that the hiring of the four ARPA funded firefighters would “stretch the city’s budget to its limit,” “The idea that we’d hire an additional eight would be unsustainable and we have to look at that. And I don’t always agree with Mr. Champ, but I think you said it very well tonight. We have to be concerned not only with the present, but the future and the financial condition of the city when we are reaching our constitutional taxing limit, when we’re not able to raise taxes, my question to all of the citizens are what do you want us to cut?”
Ecklund asked Mayor Eddie Sundquist if the SAFER grant would allow the city to hire less than the eight firefighters proposed.
Sundquist responded that if Council provides him a number, he can ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency about that. None of the previous discussions by the city administration until Monday’s voting session indicated that the grant allowed the city to hire less than eight fire fighters under the grant.
The motion to table the resolution until May passed with just Council member Regina Brackman voting no.
In a related resolution, Council did approve purchasing a second ambulance for the fire department with $250,000 in American Rescue Plan funds.