EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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March 6, 2013

Firemen layoffs loom as grant cut


“It will be a challenge, combined with all the other programs that need to be funded in Fiscal Year 14,” said Robert Nunes, the city’s state-appointed fiscal overseer, who has veto power over city spending. “I’ll offer my recommendations, but I can assure you that what the mayor presents will be balanced.”

Lantigua did not return a phone call yesterday.

Losing the firefighting grant could dislodge what the mayor has said would be a cornerstone of his re-election campaign: his success rebuilding police and fire services.

In his State of the City address on Feb. 5, he said reopening the Prospect Hill firehouse 13 months ago was one of the successes stories of his first term, and he said the last seven of the 38 firefighters to be rehired with the FEMA grant would be on the job within a few months.

“This progress will continue under my watch,” Lantigua said in what was one of the few applause lines of his 42-minute speech to the City Council. “Our public safety budgets will not be compromised as long as I am in office.”

Yesterday, Fire Chief Bergeron said FEMA’s decision not to renew the grant could mean the seven firefighters may not be rehired because the funding for their salaries runs out in five months. He said he is hoping Lantigua and the City Council can find the funding to keep the 38 firefighters on the payroll until FEMA begins awarding the next round of public safety grants later this year.

“Obviously, I’d recommend keeping everybody employed,” Bergeron said. “The city would have to come up with quite a bit of money to make up the difference.”

Although the city has about $5 million on hand from last year’s budget surplus, Budget Director Mark Ianello told the City Council last night that tapping it to keep the firefighters on the payroll would be “problematic” because he said the surplus should be used only for one-time capital needs, not for on-going operating expenses.

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