It should be noted that Sumter has received huge amounts in grants over the past serveral processes and has been very successful in their applications.

Sumter County Times

County Commission approves fire grant
By Amanda Mims

Sumter Commissioners are allowing Fire Rescue to apply for a federal grant which, if awarded, would provide for a maximum of 41 full-time firefighter positions.

At the commission meeting on Tuesday Sumter Fire Chief Bill Gulbrandsen presented the commission with information about a grant application, which would have to be submitted by the end of this month.

The SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant would allow for 90 percent of salaries for the new firefighters for the first year, and that number would incrementally drop to zero by the fifth year after receiving the grant initially.

Currently, there are about the same number of Sumter firefighters who would qualify to apply for the positions, if available, as there would be created.

But commissioners aren't ready to commit to the financial obligation the award would entail. They agreed to allow the application of the grant because of the approaching deadline but plan to discuss it further before accepting any grant money.

For the first year, the county would have to pay $140,000 toward the cost of paying 41 firefighters $36,000 a year including benefits. By the fifth year, that number would increase to $1,404,000.

"I don't look at grants as free money anymore," said Commissioner Joey Chandler.

Commissioners voiced several concerns about applying for such a grant, including the possibility of being required to repay it if positions were lost, as well as the practicality of committing to more money while the current staff situation seems to be working.

Commissioner Michael Francis said he didn't see why such allotments would be necessary, since Gulbrandsen stated earlier that fire rescue personnel were arriving on scenes around six minutes from when emergency calls are placed, and that the department has been running efficiently.

But Gulbrandsen called the chance for this grant a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." He also said that the volume of calls the department receives has increased at a much more rapid rate than population has been increasing, an increase of about 13 percent over last year.

"This is a standard of care issue," he said.

Commissioner Jim Roberts said he would not be opposed to applying for the grant, but would like to explore all possible ramifications and let the public decide whether this is something they want to pay for. "We'll need a lot of public input for this," he said.

Also at Tuesday's board meeting, commissioners opted to move ahead with the next step toward the county's solid waste assessments.

Starting this week, advertisement will begin for a consultant who will determine the amounts Sumter residents will have to pay for solid waste disposal and the commission will receive bids for the position until June 23.

In other business, Sumter's Guardian Ad Litem office will be moving out of a 160-square foot office into a more spacious and workable one.

GAL Attorney Courtney Durham and Case Coordinator Kate Busby approached the commission, pleading for a larger office for their staff of three full-time employees and one part-time employee, in addition to 35 active volunteers.

Busby said currently, the group has 48 cases and 90 children, and expects approximately double that amount by the end of June, and says there are already instances when confidentiality is compromised because of a lack of space.

"I think this is an agency we need to do something for," Roberts said.

Commissioners agreed to rent a building containing seven offices for the program at a cost of $15,000 per year. The GAL program will only need four offices, so three will be left for the use of the county.