With lack of funding and budget cuts so often topics at recent meetings, the Ramona Municipal Water District Board heard a bit of positive news last week.
Legal Counsel Sophie Akins announced during the Dec. 8 meeting that the water district had received a check for $163,146 as a settlement payment for a lawsuit in which RMWD had participated, along with other water agencies. Akins said the amount includes compensation to the district for all attorney fees incurred in this lawsuit.
According to RMWD Chief Financial Officer David Barnum, the lawsuit was against a manufacturer who sold high pressure valves that were found to be deficient to water agencies in the state, including Ramona. Barnum said that, when receiving such a settlement, the board usually applies that amount to the water fund with the intent to keep the water rates as low as possible.
Another item mentioned at the board meeting is offering the fire department hope that the water district will be able to reinstate positions that were cut this fall.
Ramona resident and firefighter Jeff Miller, who in recent months had voiced his concerns about the elimination of staffing on the rescue rig, as well as the reserve firefighter program, addressed the board with a possible solution. Miller said he had just learned that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) changed its guidelines for the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grants and the application deadline is Dec. 18.
The SAFER Grant was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase the number of trained, “front-line” firefighters in their communities, according to the FEMA Web site.
An updated notice on the Web site states “Under the FY2009 program guidance, grants can be awarded to fire departments to rehire firefighters who have been laid off from the fire department due to economic constraints.”
“We do qualify because of the 2.2 positions that were cut approximately three months ago,” said Miller. “There’s a chance we can actually get those positions back at no cost to the Ramona water district. Since the positions weren’t cut out of the budget—they were just not funded permanently—the plan is to eventually put them back in. This grant may carry us until you do have enough money, until things are resolved financially.”
The SAFER grant information was given to CalFire Battalion Chief Greg Griswold with the Ramona Fire Department to review. On Friday, Griswold said he is working on the grant with CalFire Battalion Chief Marc Hafner, also with the Ramona Fire Department. Griswold said Hafner knows what language to use when submitting a grant.
“It’s basically creative writing,” Griswold said.
In the application, Griswold said, they will need to tell FEMA about the community, and explain why the positions were lost and why they need the positions.
The rescue rig, which is owned by the county, is extremely technical to operate, said Griswold. Although it is not needed in all response calls, it does have apparatus for special emergency situations such as a compressor that has the ability to refill air bottles, ropes and harnesses, circular saws, shoring equipment, air monitoring equipment, light towers and a basket that can be used for a situation such as lifting a person out of a ravine.
When the water district deemed it necessary to cut the fire department’s budget and eliminated the staffing on the rescue rig, the county fire authority agreed to provide one county volunteer per day with a $100 stipend to work on the rescue rig, once volunteers were trained. However, the training to operate the rescue rig can take months.
According to Griswold, the grant would fund 100 percent of the career position salaries for two years. After two years, Griswold said, hopefully the economy will be better and the water district will be able to pay the salaries. Griswold added that they are also looking to see if the grant could help with the reserve firefighter program.
Griswold admitted that there are probably a lot of fire departments competing for these grants but that the department is excited to apply as this was the first time they had heard anything about the possibility of rehiring firefighters for those positions.
“This is unique,” he said.
Although no time frame was publicized as to when the grant recipients would be announced, Griswold said the process usually takes four to six months.