Federal Grant Puts Arkansas Volunteer on Fast Track to Combination

The move was made possible due to a SAFER grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

GREENWOOD -- A 10-year plan for upgrading the Greenwood Fire Department from a volunteer department to a full-time department got two big boosts this month, putting the full-time portion of the upgrade on fast-forward.

On Nov. 3, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded the city a matching, five-year, $856,990 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant. The grant allows Greenwood to hire 10 full-time firefighters, Fire Chief Don Oliver said Tuesday.

Whether city officials would accept it or turn it back depended on Greenwood voters passing a new sales tax that would supply needed matching funds for staffing and for firefighting equipment and training, Mayor Garry Campbell has said.

On Nov. 7, the voters came through. In a 1,241 to 1,148 vote, they passed a 10-year, three-quarters percent sales tax to fund Fire Department, parks and road improvements -- with revenues divided evenly between the three departments. The tax will take effect Jan. 1. It will raise Greenwood’s sales tax rate from 8.25 percent to 9 percent. The city already has a 1 percent sales tax. Sebastian County’s rate is 1.25 percent, and the state’s rate is 6 percent.

Campbell said Tuesday city officials anticipate the Fire Department’s annual share of the new tax to be more than $300,000 a year.

"We believe it will be enough to fund the Fire Department," Campbell said.

Now the city can move its full-time plans from the last phase of its 10-year Fire Department growth plan to the front end, Oliver said.

The city has 31 volunteer firefighters, and the plan is to have a combination volunteer and and full-time department such as that in Carson City, the capital of Nevada, Oliver said. Greenwood will hire a full-time fire chief, three firefighters for each shift and a 10th firefighter to serve as a floater, covering for vacation and sick days, Oliver said.

Still needed, Campbell said, is a strategic plan for budgeting money for any needed facilities and equipment.

According to a staffing grant, the federal grant provides $301,825 the first year, and the city kicks in $33,536. In year two, the federal share drops to $276,337, and the city’s share grows to $69,084. In year three, the feds contribute $177,892 and the city contributes $177,891. In year four, the feds kick in $109,937 and the city kicks in $256,520. In the fifth year, the city contributes the full $377,450 anticipated payroll expense.

Over the five years, the federal share totals $865,990, and the city’s totals $914,481.

City growth played a big role in its decision to go full-time, but it wasn’t the sole factor, Oliver and Campbell said.

Over the past four years, Greenwood suffered three fire fatalities, and a growing sentiment among residents was that some of the tragedy may have been averted had the city had a full-time rather than a volunteer department. Residents believed a full-time department could have shortened response time by about five minutes, Campbell said.

The 2000 U.S. Census showed Greenwood with a population of 7,112. Its 2006 estimated population is 8,626, Oliver said, and city number crunchers estimate it will grow to 11,041 by 2016.

Western Arkansas Planning and Development District projects Greenwood’s population will be 12,100 by 2020 and 13,000 by 2025.

A recent ISO rating drop from 7 to 5 came with a list of things the city could do to drop the home and business fire insurance rating even lower, Campbell said.

The City Council asked for a long-term growth plan and appointed a four-member ISO Fire-Rating Task Committee, Oliver said. Committee members were Dane Burgess, Duane Hartman and council members Daniel McDaniel and David Purifoy.

Greenwood hopes to drop its ISO rating to a 3, which would save every household about $200 a year on insurance premiums, Campbell said. The drop from 7 to 5 translated to about $230 a year savings per household, he said.

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