Cheshire SAFER grant...this will be interesting...
Your tax dollars at works folks.
Two towns. 4,000 combined population. $660,000 to recruit volunteer firefighters.
The Town is now trying to figure out if it's cheaper for them to spend the unneccessary grant, or to deal with a lawsuit from the grant writer who stands to personally gain between $66,000 and $90,000 from the grant.
Big grant is big pain for small town
By Ryan Hutton, North Adams Transcript
Article Launched: 02/07/2007 11:49:21 AM EST
Wednesday, February 7
CHESHIRE — On the heels of a massive — unsolicited — grant, the Selectmen have issued a memorandum to all town department heads and boards requiring that any grant applications be reviewed by the board prior to submission.
"This is normal operating procedure," Town Administrator Mark Webber said at Tuesday night's Selectmen's meeting. "It's always been this way, we just wanted to state it."
Last week's memorandum came two days before a meeting to discuss the recently awarded grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency grant. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant provides $666,000 for the recruitment and retention of firefighters.
The larger grant came as a surprise to the board, which had previously approved pursuing a $175,000 grant application for a much-needed rescue truck. That grant failed to come through.
Astorino said he was upset at the origins of the SAFER grant for Cheshire and Savoy and the signing of the contract with grant writer Samuel Doncel without proper authorization.
"He did not get (the fire chiefs) the new truck, but he promised them a
grant. He knows what's easy so he went after it," he said. "If only (the chiefs) had come to us first."
Town officials are worried that the size of this grant means the likelihood of receiving future federal funding for more immediate needs are slim.
According to the minutes of last Thursday's night meeting on the grant, Doncel requested an executive session to discuss his contract as the its administrator. But Town Counsel Edmund R. St. John III advised the Selectmen not to enter executive session because the board does not have the authority to give the position to Doncel.
Under state procurement laws, any contract or agreement with the town between $5,000 and $25,000 must get three outside price quotes before a decision can be made, Selectmen Chairwoman Carol Francesconi said Tuesday. If the amount is above $25,000, the job must be officially put out to sealed bid. The administrator's salary is budgeted close to $90,000 in the grant, so it would have to be put out to bid. Since most of the line items in the grant are more than $5,000, especially the advertising phase which early estimates place at $300,000, the procurement laws have to be determined before anything can happen. Violation of the laws can mean penalties and fines.
Doncel claimed at last week's meeting that he had spoken to Homeland Security and was told the town was exempt form procurement laws. On Tuesday night, Webber said he had called Homeland Security and could not reach anyone to answer his question. The contact number given to the town had not been set up yet. He also called the state inspector general's office, which said the laws did apply.
"As elected town officials we have to protect the town," Astorino said. "We can't run fast and loose with just verbal say-so. We need written say-so."
According to the minutes of last Thursday's meeting, Francesconi said the town would wait to hear from Homeland Security before making any decisions. Doncel asked if he would be named grant administrator. The Selectmen informed him that if the procurement laws applied, the job would be put out to bid. Doncel said the grant was an exceptional opportunity that he had brought about.
"I did a service to the fire departments and there's a straw that breaks the camel's back," he said.
If Doncel is not made grant administrator, he will be entitled to a writer's fee of 10 percent of the grant, or $66,000. This means Cheshire and Savoy will owe $33,000 each. Because the fire chief had no authority to make a deal with Doncel, the town has the legal recourse not to pay him, but Francesconi said Tuesday it would be a waste of time and money.
"We'd have to hire a lawyer to fight it and we'd pay that bill anyway," she said. "We get hit one way or the other."
The Selectmen will meet again to discuss the matter with all parties involved Thursday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m. Francesconi said town would look into transferring the grant to Doncel's control to take the town's name off it. She stressed that the ideal situation for the town would be if the fire departments got their money and the benefits that came with it.
"We don't want to be perceived as looking a gift horse in the mouth," Webber said. "But on the other side of it, we are bound by Massachusetts laws. We can't minimize them or dismiss them. We have to adhere to them first and foremost."