TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Tyler City Council moved and approved to deny a $1.58 million federal grant that would have helped hire 12 new firefighters to add to the city's department. Council members say they chose to deny because once that money runs dry, they believe the city would not be able to afford the positions on its own.
"Year three and four could create a financial crisis and create a burden on future councils," District Four Council member Don Warren said. "We have pulled rabbits out of hats for the past two years [making the budget] and frankly, we are running out of rabbits."
The SAFER Grant is federally funded and would cover a significant amount of the new personnel costs for two years. According to the detailed council agenda, the grant would cover $640,998 and the city would cover $213,666 in the first two years. In the third year though, that flips. The city would cover $555,532 and the grant would cover $299,132.
Then from year four forward, the city would cover the full cost of the 12 firefighters.
"The last thing that I would like for any council or management of the city to have to do is to accept this grant and then in the third or fourth year have to lay off 12 firefighters because we can't afford it," District Two Council member Darryl Bowdre said.
Council chambers were filled to standing-room-only with firefighters Wednesday morning who were there in support of accepting the grant.
Justin Dominy, president of the Tyler Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local883, says most crews in Tyler run three member operations. This grant would have provided what he calls a crucial fourth crew member.
"Common to all the studies and standards and many line of duty death reports, there is a profound need for four person minimum staffing," he told council. "While we are sympathetic about the current budget crisis, we cannot ignore the safety concerns for our citizens and our firefighters."
During their discussion, council noted that there have been efforts in the past to increase fire personnel gradually. Their comments suggested they are willing to consider hiring a couple new personnel per year, but it's unclear when they would move forward with tangible hiring action.
"We appreciate our firemen without any question," Mayor Martin Heines said. "We owe them a debt of gratitude for all the work they do, but this issue was just purely a financial decision."