City Coun­cil ac­cepts grants

The Weekly Vista - - News - KEITH BRYANT kbryant@nwadg.com

The Bella Vista City Coun­cil agreed to ac­cept grants to help cover the costs of the city’s com­pre­hen­sive plan and to hire ad­di­tional fire­fight­ers dur­ing a spe­cial meet­ing Mon­day af­ter­noon.

The first grant dis­cussed was a Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion grant, good for a max­i­mum of $61,677 of the city’s $157,030 in con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions, to help cover some of the city’s on­go­ing com­pre­hen­sive plan­ning process.

Mayor Pe­ter Christie said the grant came with stip­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing re­quire­ments the funds not be used for cer­tain things — in­clud­ing at­tempts to in­flu­ence leg­is­la­tion or in­flu­ence elec­tions.

The foun­da­tion, he said, has helped other cities pay for plan­ning ser­vices.

“I don’t think we have a halo or any­thing, they’re just do­ing it for ev­ery­body,” Christie said.

The next grant was a Staffing for Ad­e­quate Fire and Emer­gency Re­sponse, or SAFER grant, through the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity. The city has been ap­ply­ing for this grant since 2009, he said, and fi­nally re­ceived ap­proval.

The $959,854 grant, he said, cov­ers a por­tion of fire­fight­ers’ pay for three years and the city in­tends to hire nine fire­fight­ers with this as­sis­tance. The city may not be able to af­ford to keep the new fire­fight­ers on board when the grant money runs out, he said, and the city needs to make sure new hires are aware of this pos­si­bil­ity.

Fire chief Steve Sims said he has a 180-day re­cruit­ment win­dow from the time the DHS ap­proves the grant ap­pli­ca­tion, mean­ing he needs to make all nine of his in­tended hires by Jan. 12, 2018.

The depart­ment cur­rently has 51 fire­fight­ers, he said, in­clud­ing com­mand staff, and the nine hires would give his depart­ment a full com­ple­ment of fire­fight­ers and put one in ev­ery bed. More­over, he said, he ex­pects this could re­duce over­time spend­ing.

While the grant has a lim­ited term, he said, the depart­ment may be able to re­ceive an­other grant at the end of that term to help keep them on board.

“We’ll make ev­ery ef­fort we can … to ask for a re­hire grant,” Sims said.

Coun­cil mem­ber Frank An­der­son said he was con­cerned the depart­ment might not be able to hire enough peo­ple in time.

Fire­fight­ers can be dif­fi­cult to hire, he said, be­cause un­em­ploy­ment is very low and, be­yond that, of those who ap­ply not all can pass the re­quired tests. The depart­ment will need a strong pool of good can­di­dates, he said.

“All I’m point­ing out is it’s tough to get nine fire­fight­ers at one point,” he said. “I don’t think in North­west Arkansas that many fire­fight­ers go with­out a job.”

Hu­man re­sources man­ager Melissa Cruise said the city has ramped up re­cruit­ment at no cost by post­ing to more job boards and us­ing so­cial me­dia to pro­mote city jobs.

“We’re do­ing a bet­ter job of re­cruit­ing,” she said. “I do feel like we’ll get at least nine or more qual­i­fied can­di­dates.”

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