NY firefighters' jobs could be saved by FEMA

The Federal Emergency Management Agency could be open to helping save 12 Newburgh firefighters from layoffs this summer if the city shares in the costs

By Leonard Sparks
The Times Herald-Record

NEWBURGH, N.Y. — The Federal Emergency Management Agency could be open to helping save 12 Newburgh firefighters from layoffs this summer if the city shares in the costs, a representative for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney told the City Council.

If Newburgh used some or all of a $536,635 windfall in unexpected sales tax revenue from Orange County to cover a portion of the positions, it could be seen as a "sign of good faith" by FEMA, Joe Donat, Maloney's district director, said at Thursday's Council work session.

Newburgh has twice received funding from FEMA's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program, and is weighing a third application. The second award prevented the layoffs of 12 firefighters in 2016.

"Losing 12 members of the department would be a significant loss for all in the city, and I think that using some or all of the county funding that was provided could be a sign of good faith to allow for a more competitive SAFER application," Donat said.

Newburgh received two-year SAFER grants in 2014 and 2016, each time with the expectation that the city would take over the costs for the extra firefighters when the grant expired.

Fire officials say the extra manpower for the 68-firefighter department has improved both public and firefighter safety by adding one more man to each truck and allowing for quicker deployment of hoses and ladders at fire scenes.

Firefighters have also bolstered Newburgh's code enforcement efforts.

When the city's ability to take over the costs of the extra firefighters did not materialize as the first grant expired, Maloney and other elected officials successfully lobbied FEMA for a second grant worth $2 million in July 2016 to prevent layoffs.

This time, Newburgh is debating whether to use the extra sales tax revenue. Last month County Executive Steve Neuhaus called on city officials to apply its extra sales tax revenue toward saving positions.

"I do think that we'd be able to use that to retain a good number and then be able to go forward," Councilman Jonathan Jacobson said on Thursday.

Newburgh has other needs, as well.

An engineering study will determine if City Hall is still safe to inhabit, and on Monday the Council will vote on spending $112,000 in city funds for the emergency demolition of an unsafe building on First Street.

City officials are also opposed to raising already high taxes.

While SAFER grant funding is now for three years, new guidelines also require that municipalities match 25 percent of the costs for the first two years and 65 percent for the third year.

"At this point, I don't see us being able to raise taxes in a way that would provide for those additional expenses," Comptroller Katie Mack said. "And if we hit fund balance ... it's like touching our piggy bank, and that's not even enough money right now."

Copyright 2018 The Times Herald-Record

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