Trenton sends firefighter layoff plan to state for approval

TRENTON -- City officials have submitted a plan to the state to layoff Trenton firefighters if federal grant money is not awarded to the city, officials confirmed Monday.
Details of the plan were not immediately known Monday evening, but a city official confirmed that a layoff plan was sent to the state Civil Service Commission last week.
Fire Director Qareeb Bashir could not immediately be reached for comment, nor could Business Administrator Terry McEwen.
The city has a pending application with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant program, more commonly known as SAFER grants.
The application is for $7,465,068 to hire 26 new firefighters, says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which awards the grants.
McEwen, in May, told NJ Advance Media: "We have not submitted a firefighter layoff plan to state government authorities that would be required by law if we needed to take action. In fact, no firefighter layoff plan exists."
Three times since 2010, the Trenton Fire Department has counted on a federal grant to fund dozens of firefighter positions and prevent layoffs. Each time, the city notified about 50 to 60 firefighters they'd be laid off if federal money was not awarded to the city.
Each time, the city got millions, saving the jobs. The city currently has about 220 firefighters.
Union officials have said the city needs a better, long-term solution and say they're always working with city officials to do so, but each past SAFER grant pushed the financial problems of the cash-strapped department - and city - down the road for another budget.
This grant cycle, however, the city's application is for new firefighters, not to retain current positions.
And also new in the SAFER grants this cycle is that they're for three years, not two as before, and the recipients have a cost share - 75 percent of the usual annual costs of a first-year firefighter in years one and two, and 35 percent of the usual annual cost of a first-year firefighter in year three, FEMA says.
The federal share of Trenton's $7,465,068 grant - if awarded - would be $4,603,458, FEMA says.
McEwen, in May, declined discuss the city's SAFER application in detail, or what exactly the city plans to do if the funding does not come through.
If the grant is not awarded, or funding is cut, McEwen said, "We would have options, which we cannot discuss at this time."
Kevin Shea may be reached at kshea@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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