By BRIAN BOHNERT
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
Mayor Eric Keckler might have said it best following Tuesday night’s city council meeting.
“This is something that just doesn’t happen, and it happened.”
Fostoria has been awarded the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant for an unprecedented third time, paving the way for Fostoria Fire Division’s depleted roster to grow by three.
While receiving the SAFER grant three times is considered a rare milestone for any local government, the program will function quite a bit differently this time around.
The first two installments of the federally funded program provided $1.2 million over the course of two years to retain eight firefighter positions. This version of the SAFER grant, however, is a three-year program providing $404,666 toward the hiring of three additional firefighters.
The program will fund 75 percent of the wages and benefits of those firefighters throughout the first two years, dropping to 25 percent in the third year.
“It’s huge for the city. It’s a boost in the arm, but it’s not going to get the job done,” said Interim Fire Chief Brian Herbert. “Like the two previous SAFER grants, it’s a Band-Aid. We need this levy to pass.”
On Nov. 7, voters will head to the polls and vote on a proposed 6-mill property tax levy. If approved, the levy is expected to generate nearly $3.5 million by 2021 and be earmarked specifically for the city’s safety forces.
According to the city’s five-year financial recovery plan, the hiring of three firefighters is dependent on the passage of the levy.
Levy failure would result in the layoff of four police officers, two firefighters and two police clerks.
Now that the city has received the SAFER grant again, At-large Councilman Greg Cassidy said he fears some people may be reluctant to vote for the crucial levy this fall.
“It’s incumbent upon us, it’s absolutely necessary, to project the idea that this is just another Band-Aid on a very serious wound,” Cassidy said. “This does not — in any way, shape or form — diminish the city’s need for the community to vote for this levy.”
The mayor said he and Belinda Miller of the State Auditor’s Office will be carefully examining the potential impact of the grant on the financial recovery plan.
Since the plan is expected to undergo yearly updates, Keckler assured members of council the SAFER grant will be factored into next year’s budget sooner than later.
“As all the SAFER grants have been, it’s only temporary,” said Keckler. “It’s not a permanent fix by any means. We still have to look long term.”
“We don’t want to give any kind of impression that this allows us to coast a little bit,” he added. “It’s not true. We still have to be diligent.”
The city applied for its first SAFER grant in 2010, and again in 2013, funding the salaries and benefits of eight of Fostoria’s firefighters until last September when the grant expired.
Keckler praised the work of Fostoria Economic Development Corporation President Renee Smith, who applied for the grant and has consistently helped the city receive the funding.
“It’s unprecedented,” he said. “Renee (Smith) never ceases to amaze me in securing the number of grants she’s been successful at securing for the city. I don’t know how she does it, but she’s been a huge benefit to this community since she came here.”
The SAFER grant is issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Grant Programs Directorate (GPD).
Separately, council voted to approve a new timetable for the construction of the Tim Hortons slated to set up shop on North Countyline Street next fall.
According to the ordinance, construction of the 1,980 Tim Hortons square-foot restaurant and drive-thru will begin no later than June 1, 2018 and be completed by Sept. 1, 2018.
Rensko Properties LLC, owners of Fostoria’s Tim Hortons franchise, pushed back the start date of the long-awaited project back in July after unforeseen costs forced the company to put construction on hold.
Rensko, which owns nearly 30 Tim Hortons developments throughout Ohio, purchased several residential properties on North Countyline Street in October 2016 with the goal of demolishing the homes and having the restaurant up and running this past spring.
However, after crews leveled the homes, the work stopped and the fenced-in property is now full of dirt and overgrown weeds.
Once it’s finished, Fostoria’s Tim Hortons is expected to create between 30 and 40 new jobs within its first six months in business.
The restaurant will be located near North Countyline Street and Park Avenue at a new address of 918 N. Countyline St.
Also at the meeting, City Auditor Steve Garner presented his payroll/overtime report through Aug. 31. According to the report, Fostoria Police Division has accrued $171,555.77 in overtime thus far this year, while Fostoria Fire Division has accumulated $93,805.01.
In other business:
• Council adopted a resolution accepting the amounts and rates as determined by the Budget Commission in its certification of the 2018 tax budget.
• Council also adopted an ordinance approving replacement pages to the city’s codified ordinances.
• An ordinance adopting and amending the permanent appropriations for 2017 by moving $70,950 in unappropriated funds to the general fund was also approved.
• A first reading was also heard of an amended request by a Fostoria man to detach a little more than 14 acres of real estate from the city.
Tim Runion, 21744 CR 226, originally asked council to detach a total of roughly 33 acres of land located just outside Foundation Park so he can use the property to hunt. According to Runion’s amended petition, he is now asking council to detach only 14.616 acres of land.
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Runion’s original proposal had been tabled since July 18.
• Council also heard a first reading of an application submitted by Carl D. and June M. Painter for the placement of farmland in an agricultural district located within the corporate limits of the city.
The application, filed Aug. 28, states the Painter family’s farmland consists of approximately 53.152 acres, more or less, on the northeast border of the city, adjacent to Boston Avenue.
A public hearing regarding the proposal has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 19 in council chambers, which will precede the 5:45 p.m. meeting of Fostoria Finance Committee.
The next meeting of Fostoria City Council will take place at 6 p.m. Sept. 19 in council chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building.