Although the Hoboken City Council approved a $667,539 grant to hire four new firefighters, it remains unclear if the city will take on the other $1.3 million in costs associated with the potential new employees.
Capt. Michael Stefano, President of the Hoboken Fire Officers Local 1076, explained during the public portion that a $667,569 federal grant needs to be submitted by the end of the month or it will be rescinded.
“First of all council members, I want to thank you for investing, approving the SAFER grant. However, as of this date, the administration has not yet accepted it. On July 28th, it was awarded by the federal government, I believe there’s 60 days to accept it,” began Stefano.
“It is September 19th: that gives us nine days to reach that deadline. Why are we waiting to get to the deadline? You guys approved it two weeks ago, I just wanted to make you aware of that … We need the manpower. We have 113 members, total, [at our] fire department. Eight years ago, we had 132.”
U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8), whose district includes Hoboken, announced the grant, which stands for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, on July 28th.
“I am very pleased that the Hoboken Fire Department has received this award which will allow our communities to have a faster, safer, and more efficient emergency response,” Sires said in a statement at the time.
“This critical funding will provide our emergency responders with the necessary tools to continue keeping our communities safe.”
3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo was incensed that Business Administrator Stephen Marks was not immediately able to provide more clarity on the matter.
“Our fire force is decreasing as our population is increasing. That makes zero sense to me. For you director, to say, you’re not prepared to comment on this is kind of insulting to this council,” Russo exclaimed.”
“You’re here to report to us on questions like this. You’re here to explain the administration’s position on acceptance of grants, or positions that they take in the city, or things that are going on – that’s why we have these meetings. Not just for our sake, but for the public’s sake.”
Following a question from Council President Jen Giattino, Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia said that it was ultimately up to the mayor to decide whether to hire the new firefighters or not, even if the council voted to insert the grant into the budget.
Councilmen Dave Mello and Ruben Ramos also expressed frustration over the fact that the grant was being held up by the administration.
“We’ve already exhausted the initial 30 days and now we’re what, a week out, from having to return this money. And I’m just confused how there could be further evaluations necessary to submit something we’ve been talking about for over a half a year,” stated Mello.
“These SAFER grants are not given out like Tic-Tacs. The federal government really goes through them line by line and by us just going through the process, we put other municipalities that probably applied for the SAFER grant as well – get rejected,” added Ramos.
As the discussion continued, Marks eventually said that “this isn’t free money,” indicating that even with the grant, the city would need to find another $1.3 million to keep the four new firefighters employed.
The council ultimately approved the resolution by a unanimous vote (9-0, 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham voted over the phone).
A city spokesman said that the grant “is still being evaluated” and declined to comment further.