City Council accepts grants
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.”