St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and fire Chief James Large have correctly concluded the city should reject the federal grants that would allow the city to hire 17 additional firefighters.
The two-year grants from the Department of Homeland Security are intended to help cities rehire laid-off firefighters. St. Petersburg lost 17 fire positions in 2009 — three because of county budget cuts and 14 because the city lost the contract to serve Tierra Verde. But two grant rules are problematic: The city couldn't reduce fire staffing for the grant's two years, and it would have to assume all costs for the new firefighters for at least a year afterward. With a tough budget year ahead and county EMS funding uncertain, Large said it would not be fiscally responsible to apply for the grant.
Large's conclusion, echoed by Foster in his first week as mayor, put the two at odds with the fire union and some members of the City Council, which split 4-4 Thursday on a vote urging the mayor to apply for the grant. But it would have been a mistake to obligate St. Petersburg to maintain fire staffing at 2009 levels when the city no longer has the Tierra Verde contract and may not have the money to pick up the costs after two years.