Schenectady will receive $100,000 in county funding if the city fire department can maintain a staffing level of 20 or more firefighters per day for the rest of this year.
County legislators soundly approved a contract with the city last week that provides the funding to assist the Schenectady Fire Department’s hazardous materials response team. Every time the department maintains a crew of at least 20 firefighters throughout the entire day, the county will provide $548 in funding to the city, according to the agreement, which automatically renews itself annually through 2015.
Under the deal, the city will be eligible to receive $200,000 per year in 2014 and 2015 provided the fire department maintains the minimum daily staffing level. The funding will bring the total amount the county spends on the city’s hazardous materials team up to $300,000 this year and $400,000 annually during the remaining two years of the agreement.
“It gives them incentive to keep their staffing at a level higher than they’d normally keep it,” County Attorney Chris Gardner said.
Funding for the measure will be taken from the county’s fund balance. Gardner said the county found it necessary to provide the department with the extra funding given a recent uptick in arson fires in the city.
Last year, about 30 percent of the city’s 379 fires were set on purpose, according to department figures released last week. This is an increase of about five percent over the fires that were set deliberately in 2011.
“If you look at the number of fire incidents, it’s a critical problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later before it has tragic implications,” Gardner said.
volunteer agencies aided
The agreement also establishes a $50,000 fund to assist volunteer fire companies throughout the county. The resolution adopted by the county Legislature notes these departments should have the funding available due to being stretched thin by recent natural disasters and a growing call volume.
County officials contract with the city to provide a hazardous materials team so that the volunteer departments aren’t burdened with the cost of equipment and training. Funding for the team was originally $400,000 before being halved in 2008 amid the county’s budget crunch.
At the time, then-Fire Chief Robert Farstad estimated the department’s cost of running the team was about $200,176. City officials argued the cost was much higher, considering the chief’s estimate didn’t include his combined personnel and equipment costs, or wear and tear on equipment attributable to hazardous materials calls.
Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco said the funding is critical for maintaining the team at a proper level of training. Also, he said the funding helps keep the department properly staffed in the event a fire and a hazardous material call occur at the same time.
“The funding from the county we hope will help us maintain the level we had previously,” he said. “It really enhances our ability to respond to all emergencies in the city and outside the city as well.”