Grant would pay for six more firefighters
By Ben Moger-Williams
Williston has received Vermont’s first-ever federal grant for the purpose of hiring six full time firefighters over at least the next five years, according to officials.
The SAFER grant, which stands for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, totals $621,000. The grant is given in increments each year for five years with the assumption that the town will eventually take over the cost of the firefighters’ salaries. The grants are awarded to fire departments around the country “to help them increase the number of frontline firefighters with a goal of ultimately attaining 24-hour staffing, thus assuring the community has adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards,” according to the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program Web site. The SAFER program began in 2004 and is part of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program and is under the purview of the Office of Grants and Training of the Department of Homeland Security, according to the site.
Town Manager Rick McGuire announced the grant at Monday’s Selectboard meeting as he was discussing the draft capital budget for fiscal year 2008. One of the capital projects proposed is an ambulance for Williston, which Fire Chief Ken Morton has long advocated. McGuire said a study on the feasibility of an ambulance service would be conducted soon. If the Selectboard decides to move forward with the grant, the ambulance service would be voted on at Town Meeting.
“Look at the numbers and the follow-up study … and make a decision on whether or not it’s something you want to put before the townspeople for a vote,” McGuire advised the board.
“This is big for Williston,” said Fire Chief Ken Morton after the meeting. “We really have to take a serious look at this because not to would be a huge mistake.”
Morton said with the revenue generated from an ambulance service, “we can pay for six full-time employees for 10 years at little or no cost.”
Including Vermont, 36 states received the awards. Morton said it is the first time a Vermont town has won the award.
The draft capital budget outlines the long-term physical development of the town for the next six years. In the latest version, McGuire laid out plans for new parks, renovations to Town Hall, a police chief’s car, numerous road and sidewalk improvements, and even the long-anticipated community center.
“It’s a project that’s been talked about around the community for quite some time,” McGuire said of the center.
He said that Williston residents Carroll and Joanne Lawes have expressed an interest in raising funds to help build the center. McGuire discussed creating a Community Center Task Force to assess the need and cost estimates for building it. He stressed that the majority of the funding for the center would come from sources other than the town.
“Whether this project ever moves forward or not depends on the success of the fundraising,” McGuire said.
McGuire also offered a brief update on the proposed regional landfill. He said the town is planning a meeting with the Chittenden Solid Waste District to discuss a potential buyout of the Host Town Agreement, which requires the town to support the landfill. The town has received several million dollars from the District since the agreement was signed in 1992. That meeting will take place Nov. 20, McGuire said.
McGuire also shared the contents of a letter from attorney Paul Gillies regarding the legality of condemning land that has already been condemned. At a previous meeting, a resident asked if it were possible for the town to claim eminent domain on the land already claimed by the District (which is technically its own municipality) for the landfill. Gillies investigated the possibility, but concluded that it was not a viable option.
“I fear there is no legal authority for one government to take land belonging to another government,” Gillies wrote.