Tri-Lakes fire district wins grant, but might turn it down

September 19, 2012

The Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District was awarded $615,804 to hire more firefighters by the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday, but may refuse the grant money.

“It’s horrible timing,” said acting Chief Bryan Jack. “Normally when you get one of these grants, you get to have a little celebration. That didn’t happen.”

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant would pay for six firefighters for two years. But the grant stipulates that no personnel layoffs can occur during the two-year period.

The problem is the fire district has a Nov. 6 ballot measure for a mill levy increase. If the increase is rejected by voters, three firefighters will be laid off and the Woodmoor fire station — one of three in the district — must close. That was determined by a resolution passed by the fire protection board of directors last week.

“We’ve been cutting corners for three or four years and can’t do it any more,” said Bill Ingram, acting president of the board. “We have to be totally honest with our taxpayers. We can’t spend what we don’t have.”

As for the SAFER money, Ingram said, “If we have to make a decision before Nov. 6, there is no way we can accept the grant. If we can put it off, we will.”

Jack said it’s not clear when personnel have to be hired to fulfill the grant’s requirements. If it’s after Nov. 6, the board will likely wait for election results before deciding whether to accept the grant.

Jack said he hopes to find a waiver that would allow the grant to be accepted even if personnel are laid off.

The district has 36 full-time firefighters, Jack said.El Paso County commissioner Darryl Glenn, who represents the district, said keeping newly hired firefighters after grant money runs out could present a problem.

“I always worry about taking grant money for personnel or ongoing expenses,” he said.

“It’s good for them but it’s one-time funding. They’ll probably be asking for a mill levy increase to keep those personnel when the grant funding runs out.”

Jack said the district has a five-year spending plan to offset those expenses after the grant expires.

Jack said the district received a letter from Homeland Security in July, rejecting their application for SAFER funds. On Sept. 7, Jack said, “We were being reconsidered.”

“That’s probably because others had turned down the grant money,” Ingram said.

Contact Bob Stephens: 636-0276 Twitter @bobgstephens
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