Reporting Joel Thomas
FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – The Fort Worth Fire Department is hoping Homeland Security in Washington D.C. will throw them a financial lifeline by way of grant money — but that lifeline would come with serious strings attached. But after having two dozen positions cut in this year’s budget, department planners think it’s worth the risk.
“That money is critical,” said Battalion Chief Richard Harrison. “With the budget shortfall we have now we don’t have the money to staff those positions.”
With funding cut for 24 positions, the Fort Worth Fire Department has shifted firefighters from other jobs to man fire trucks. The moves have left crucial jobs like training, fire prevention and enforcement understaffed.
The fire department is desperately seeking more money. “When you’re dealing with these kinds of budget constraints you’ve really got to be creative and look for those — step out of the box and look for those funds and generate them whatever way you can,” Harrison explained.
So, they’re applying for a federal grant with some pretty serious strings attached. Up to $3.4 million would come from Homeland Security. That’s enough money to fill the 24 positions for at least two years.
But, here’s the catch: Fort Worth can’t layoff any more firefighters during those two years. If the city were to lay off any firefighter it would have to give the money back.
The question is — can a city just emerging from a $55 million shortfall do it? Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price said, “I think it is feasible, particularly with public safety and fire.”
The Mayor said between the last round of deep cuts and a slightly better economy the budget road should get smoother — but only if everyone can stick to the belt-tightening plan.
“The hope is when everyone meets their targets here in the city, not only will everyone get their raise then we’ll have expenses down to a manageable level and revenue will be greater than expenses and we won’t have these big deficits,” Mayor Price said.
How much of that assessment is finger crossing and how much of it is faith in planning? “Its real good planning,” Mayor Price said “I’m not worried about fingers crossed.”
The fire department said the government shut down slowed the grant process but they hope to know if their application is awarded money in coming weeks.