Thread: Federal money, good or bad?
07-10-2004, 08:48 PM #1
- Join Date
- Jun 2004
Federal money, good or bad?
At first, it looks really good when the fire service gets money from the Federal Government for equipment, training, prevention, and personnel. What is there not to like about money. However, by taking Federal dollars, and asking for more each year, are we putting the fire service at risk? Let me explain.
The city and/or county used to be the only source of money for fire departments. Good Fire Chiefs who worked hard in conjunction with their volunteer and/or career firefighters (union or not) were able to get as much funding as possible from their owners, the citizens and their representatives. They would work hard (and still do) to make the public and the leaders of their local government understand how important spending on the fire service is. Local governments should always fund the basics of government first and then supplement money for other causes. When governments did that, it still was hard to compete with the Police and Public Works, the other two parts of the triad of basic government services. When social and political causes became as important as fire, police, and public works, (which it never should) it became even tougher on fire department budgets. Many departments started using other means of support outside of the city like 2% insurance dollars for example. The problem is once departments do this, the next time you want something your local government says well you can use that other money. The city then takes advantage of money that could've went to the fire service and use it for other purposes even in robust times. I have witnessed a surge in spending for all kinds of other projects while fire departments continue to struggle.
Now we are getting money from the Federal Government and disappointed when it's not increased each year. I have to think how many city/county governments are now free to put even less in the fire department's budget and are telling chiefs and firefighters to ask for more federal dollars. Also, it's hard enough competing with local money, now we are competing with organizations like the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard at the worse time, during a war. Not to mention all the other political hot potatoes in Washington, D.C. Also we're now competing with other fire departments around the nation. Not good.
We do not want to make the fire service a Federal fire service. It never has been the responsibility of the Federal Government to finance for purposes of equipment or manning for local fire departments. The more we look elsewhere for funding the more city and county governments will look elsewhere to put our tax dollars. Also, if you had the choice, wouldn't you put your tax dollars into your own fire department instead of one somewhere else in the country no matter how much we all care about other departments? How many times have we heard the IAFF or AFL-CIO complain about money going outside of the U.S.? Wouldn't the same apply to money going out of Mainville, Whateverstate? We also should not allow us to became the latest semi-trailer by some Senator or Congressman so he/she can combine us with a political cause like abortion or a weapon of hatred for the opposite party.
One of the big fears of IAFF members is privatization. If we continue to hold city/county governments responsible for us less and less, that is just opening the door for privatization.
07-11-2004, 11:11 AM #2
- Join Date
- Jul 2004
Good or Bad
I see your point on this and it is a good one at that but let me let you in on our situation. I am with the Sugar Grove Volunteer Fire Department. We were awarded a grant in the 1st round this year. We all jumped for joy. We have a 25 member department with 5 apparatus, our SCBA's are 15 years old, our turnout gear is even older. Our local county government gives us $22,000.00 a year to operate on. If it werent for the money that we have received from FEMA we would have never been able to purchase the new turnout gear and air packs for our department. I thank them greatly for that. I mean dont get me wrong, I never thought about it the way you put it in your post. What if the county decides that with the FEMA grants, they can save money by not giving us much money. That would be devestating. But on the other hand the federal money is not for operating. Its for equipment.
07-11-2004, 07:33 PM #3
- Join Date
- Aug 2003
- middle of the Arizona desert
Where would those tax dollars go if not to the Fire Service?
I have to agree with abarker.
I too am a member of a very small combo/volunteer Fire Department. The only support we receive from a local government entity is about $8,500 per year from the county and a little over $70,000 from our small Fire District.
Because we have found it necessary to pay our EMT staff for their on-call days, about 85% of those monies are paid out in personnel costs.
All of our Firefighters (even the Chief) are volunteers and have been working with all hand-me-down equipment - from trucks to PPE. Our SCBA's are at least 15 years old and mixed manufacturers, our turnouts are at least that old as well. Our newest fire engine is a 1978 Pumper Tanker. All donated by city departments around the area.
Over the last four years we have been fortunate enough to receive three grants. One for a water supply system that will fill a 3,300 gallon tanker in 15 minutes instead of 35-40, one for a 3,300 gallon tanker to replace the 1955 Kaiser that we had been using and one for retrofiting our 1971 Brush truck with CAFS along with some sets of new bunker gear.
We look at the award of these grants not as a gift from the Feds but as a small chance to return a few of the tax dollars paid by the local residents back to the community. If we never had the chance of applying, that money sure would not have been returned to the community but just spent on some other government program - like studying sex habits of a frog or something.
We are proud to report to the community that we have been able to get approximately $180,000 of their tax dollars back in a way that is of major benefit to them. None have disagreed.
All of the projects provided by these grants could probably never been accomplished without the Fire Act and other fire related grant programs. Even budgeting the 10% matching funds has been a challenge.
If there are, in fact, local governments that are attempting to cut Fire Department budgets in the amount of the grants received, they need to be reminded about the rules that require the same level of spending experienced in the last two years in the category that the grant is awarded.
Last edited by azrookie05; 07-11-2004 at 07:43 PM.
07-12-2004, 02:59 AM #4
- Join Date
- Jan 2001
My city council tried cutting our budget this year. However, we told told them that if they did that they may have to give up the grant due to the follwing rule from the grant guidelines.
Grantees must agree to maintain expenditures at the average of their organization's expenditures in the awarded grant program activity areas from the previous two years. Maintaining operating expenditures refers to the fact that these funds are meant to be a supplement to existing funds not a replacement of funds in the organization's current budget. Therefore, on top of the federal grant (if selected) and the matching funds, grantees must maintain the average of the last two years' spending levels on items for which the grantees receive a grant during the grant period of performance.
07-12-2004, 11:44 AM #5
Two great points that have been brought up already.
#1-Fema money SHOULD actually force local municipalities to increase their funding of local FD's. Grant matching funds need to be new money, and with many governments, if you can get that increase in new money that you need for the matching funds for the grant year, it is easier to keep that higher funding level because you can then submit a 0% increase budget in the following years that is actually higher than in pre grant years because of the new money for the matching funds.
#2-FEMA money is local money. It is funded by our local taxpayors and in reality, they (the community) are just getting a return on some of thier own money that was sent to the fed. IMO in a perfect world, the federal government wouldn't be taxing that money in the first place and would allow it to stay in the local communities where it was earned. If that were allowed to happen, local communities would have more of the local funds needed to fund emergency services.... (that's the way this country was supposed to work in the first place).
07-14-2004, 09:48 PM #6
Suuplement, not substitute
As toddmcbr correctly noted, in order to keep the grant money, your operating budget has to be maintained pretty close to the same for the next 3 years. This may come as a shock to the bean counters who give us our local money, but that is one of the strings. The FEMA money is a supplement, not a substitute.
07-23-2004, 12:47 PM #7
- Join Date
- Jul 2004
- Richwood, Ohio
I couldn't agree more with the original poster's premise that it's not the federal government's place to fund local fire & emergency services, yet, there I am every year with my hand out for Fire Act Grant dollars. It makes me feel like such a hypocrite. Perhaps I can sooth my conscious with the fact that I've been turned down every time.
08-02-2004, 12:56 AM #8
It's OUR money to start with, not the federal government's. If we don't use it, it'll just go somewhere else, and for something that is probably far less noble. If local governments wanted to do it right, we wouldn't be begging for "handouts" in the first place. Politics is politics; we might as well score while we can. We came up empty the first two years, and scored big time last year to replace our old ladder truck. Had it not been for the grant, we would STILL be riding out on a thirty-five year old wreck for the next who knows how long. Tax dollars locally, or tax dollars on the federal level; it's still our money. I feel absolutely no shame in taking it. I think it's a good program, overall. At least some of our tax dollars are coming home to do something productive. I can only hope that the complaints about the program makes it better and more efficient, instead of killing it outright. I believe the current administration has already attempted to do just that, by cutting the funding. I personally expect to see more caps and limitations on the money, such as the one they imposed on departments who received funding for a vehicle, barring them from applying for another vehicle. My biggest fear is that corruption will rear its ugly head in this program. That would really be a shame. I believe that some departments are under investigation, but I haven't heard anything about it, lately.
08-02-2004, 04:31 PM #9
Tax money is our money, regardles of whether it is a sales tax, state income or federal, I will agree with that. In spite of that, I can't think of an organization that is any better at wasting it than the federal government is. Our nation was founded on principle's that built us from the local level on up, not the other way around. Why should any of us pay local taxes for our local fire service, and then turn around and pay a federal tax on the same issue. Why is local firefighting a federal issue? The sheer size of our nation should be enough incentive to handle any issue at as low of a level as possible. Hopefully by handling things at the lowest level, the most efficient use of money can be had. A far fetched dream I know, and likely to never be seen. There is so much of a variance between our communities that the good folks in D.C. could never possibly hope to legislate accuratly, and procure money in the most efficient of ways.(It's hard enough doing that locally as is)I am opposed to federal grants for a number of reasons, the most noted of which is I feel it is a duplication of taxes, and therefore a needless tax drain. I feel that about a number of issues, outside of fire only issues. Absolutely there are exceptions, homeland security being at the top of the list. The solution is not more tax money, but fiscal responsibility. All levels of government need to take a long hard look at themselves, and start to spend tax money a bit more wisely. Having said that though, as long as the grants are set up the way they are, a department would be foolish to not apply and take advantage of what is out there.
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