Scranton’s mayor says he’s giving back part of a federal grant awarded to the city last month.
The money was supposed to hire new firefighters that the mayor says the city can’t afford in the long run.
Firefighters say the city is passing up a good opportunity.
Scranton was awarded the biggest amount of a federal grant, more than $8 million, to re-hire laid off firefighters and to hire and train 20 brand new firefighters.
But, it only guarantees those firefighters for two years. So, Scranton mayor Chris Doherty says he’s giving half of that grant money back to the feds.
The Scranton Fire Department would have had its highest number of firefighters in years if the city spent all of the federal grant to hire and train new firefighters.
But, Scranton mayor Chris Doherty says there’s no way to pay for the new firefighters in the long run.
Current firefighters say returning the cash is a bad move.
“I mean, it’s free money, it’s salary, it’s benefits, it’s pension contributions,” said Scranton Firefighter’s Union Vice President Jack Gaffney.
Gaffney says the remainder of the grant will make sure all 29 firefighters laid off last year will come back. But, it doesn’t solve any problems.
More firefighters mean stricter safety guidelines requiring more people per engine. So, some stations in the city will still have to close.
Firefighters also say the city should use the federal money to train new firefighters now, before many retire in the next few years.
“The premise of the grant is to maintain your department at its current size, so, as people leave in the next two years the mayor is going to have to hire, regardless,” Gaffney added.
Mayor Doherty says in these desperate times for city finances, hiring 20 new firefighters is too much of a gamble since there’s no guaranteed way to pay for them in the future.
“The challenge for the city is, two years we’ll have to lay them off, which would cost the city an additional $1 million. In times of constraint, which is what we’re in now, we have to watch our money appropriately,” Doherty said.
Scranton has the opportunity to re-apply for this federal grant next year, something firefighters are urging the mayor to do.
The remainder of the laid off firefighters should be back on the job on July 1, he same day their unemployment benefits from last year run out.