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Third SAFER grant advised

February 4, 2015
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Lehigh Fire and Rescue District Commissioner Cathy Kruze says she is apprehensive about the future financial situation of the local fire department.

She pointed at a situation that the department would find itself in just before it was able to collect an assessment fee that voters approved of last November in a vote.

She said she wondered if the department should apply yet for another SAFER grant from the federal government to help the department before funds run out and before new funding begins to come in for the next fiscal year.

Article Photos

Cathy Kruze

She said she had given the situation a lot of attention and she was very concerned that the time lapse that occurs before new revenues start coming in because of the assessment fee and that it might be prudent to apply for another SAFER grant which is monies from the federal government to guarantee the salaries and placement of firefighters for a year. Money from a SAFER grant cannot be used for any other purposes within the department such as buying equipment or pay for staff members. It relates only to a certain number of firefighters assuring them they will get their salaries.

"It takes a lot of time to work on the information that they need in obtaining a SAFER grant," Chief John Wayne told Kruze and other members of the board who seemed interested in hearing what she had to say.

"To get a third SAFER grant would be a surprise," Wayne said, citing that the federal government would take into consideration the conditions of the fire department and the fact that the public had voted for an assessment fee to fund the department.

But Kruze said this was an important issue to her and that she just had a feeling there may be financial problems coming up before the fire district receives funds from the assessment fee.

The deadline to apply for a SAFER grant is in early March and Wayne said the group would have to make a decision before the deadline.

"If you just give me the nod that you want me to apply for a third on, do it," he said.

During a lengthy discussion of the importance and the possibility of not receiving a third federal grant, the board decided to discuss it at its Feb. 24 meeting, which would give the board time to decide on whether applying for a third SAFER grant would be good idea.

Commissioner Linda Carter agreed with Kruze that applying for another grant may be a good idea.

The chief noted too during the discussion that if the department was deemed solvent, "the odds may not be good" in obtaining another grant.

However, if the district did apply for another SAFER grant and it was awarded, the chief and his staff agreed with Kruze that the assessment fee may be lessened for Lehigh rate payers.

Board attorney Richard Pringle, who offers advice to commissioners at meetings, said the assessment fee could indeed be reduced if such a grant was given to the fire district.

"You have yet to vote how much the fee will be when you vote to impose it," he said. The voters have given you permission to seek a certain amount. You can reduce that amount of course if funding comes to the district from another source like a SAFER grant." He said.

The two prior SAFER grants were in the millions of dollars and paid salaries during the Great Recession to retain firefighters when taxpayer funding plummeted when property values went down causing taxes to fall.

While the meeting was long, few actions were taken by the board.

Before the board sat down for formal business to discuss, Chief Wayne announced that awards were to be given out to outstanding members of the fire district. Plaques and service pins sat on a nearby table along with refreshments for a break afterwards.

While not everyone was present to accept his or her awards, those that were, posed for photos by family members and the fire department itself.

The following were recognized and presented service pins and in some cases, plaques.

The following are the awards:

- Five-Year Pin: Tony Overbee, EMT/engineer; and Jeffrey Palmer, firefighter/paramedic

- 10-Year Pin: Janis Williams, department secretary; Timothy Mace, paramedic engineer; Frank Alvarez, firefighter/ENT; and Christopher Vargo, firefighter/EMT

- 15-year Pin: Vanessa Koza, billing specialist

- 25-Year Pin: Timothy Christensen, battalion chief; and Antonio Esposito, PM field trainer

- Employee Performance Award: Ralph D. Ketron, captain fire training

- Firefighter of the Year: Jeff Brady, firefighter/EMT

Fire Chief John Wayne said that Jeff Brady was also to be honored this past Saturday night at the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce's annual gala event where several people will be recognized.

Brady, who is rarely sick, was ill and could not attend the ceremony, Wayne said.

The next meeting of the fire district's board of commissioners is scheduled for Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. at the fire station on Sunshine Blvd. and 16th Street. The public is urged to attend and participate in the meeting. In addition to Kruze, other members of the fire board include Linda Carter, Larry Becker, David Adams and Matt Smith. Becker is the chairman of the board and Kruze is the vice chairman.



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