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March 7, 2013

Lawrence needs answer to end of fire grant|Editorial:Lawrence needs answer to end of fire grant

Lawrence officials have long known that a federal grant allowing the city to rehire laid-off firefighters was a temporary fix. They’ve known that when the two-year grant expired, they would have to find another source for the $6.6 million it provided.

We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, was their attitude.

Now, the bridge is dead ahead. And Lawrence officials, as usual, have no plan for crossing it.

Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it would not renew the $6.6 million, two-year grant that allowed Lawrence to rehire 38 firefighters and reopen two firehouses closed after a budget crisis in 2009 and 2010.

The layoffs and station closures created a public safety emergency. Lawrence no longer had sufficient firefighting forces to respond properly even to minor fires. The city began calling for mutual aid support from surrounding communities — so frequently that neighboring fire chiefs began to complain and threaten to withhold their assistance.

Lawrence cannot fall back into that crisis. The administration of Mayor William Lantigua needs to put together a funding plan that will allow the city to maintain its basic public safety services. This is the first priority of any municipality. The city cannot depend on other communities to provide its basic firefighting services. That is an unfair imposition on good neighbors.

The grant funds will run out in August, two months into the next fiscal year. That means the city will have to come up with 10 months of funding — $2.8 million — to keep all the firefighters on duty and the firehouses open through the 2014 fiscal year.

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

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