Grant eligibility under question

BFTownHall2

BEACON FALLS — The wording of a bond resolution for a new fire truck has raised a question on whether the town is eligible for a grant sought to offset the cost.

In September the town voted to authorize a $700,000 bond resolution to purchase a new 75-foot fire truck for Beacon Hose Company No. 1. The resolution stipulated no money would be bonded for the truck before July 1, 2014 as the town applied for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program to help pay for the fire truck.  

Town officials were told that it could take until July to hear whether or not they had received the grant.

However, they may have received their answer sooner than expected.

David Parr, a regional fire program specialist with the grant program, said in an email to Board of Finance Chairman Jim Huk that, in his mind, the town is ineligible for the grant since it has appropriated money for a new fire truck, but was holding off on spending the funds in hopes of getting the grant.

“This fact will make your application ineligible as you cannot receive a grant award for any vehicle or equipment that you have already appropriated money to purchase,” Parr wrote in the email.

Parr said in the email the grant program is designed to supplement a municipality’s fire department budget. In the case of Beacon Falls, he felt, the way the resolution is written means the grant would supplant funding.

The email from Parr was sent on Nov. 14, shortly before the grant application was due, which made the town to hold off on submitting its application.

According to the minutes from the Dec. 10 Board of Finance meeting, First Selectman Christopher Bielik stated the town may have missed the grant application deadline.

Bielik said he sought the opinion of Kevin Peott, a representative from the FEMA grant national help desk, who recommended the town move forward with the application, according to the meeting minutes.

Based on Peott’s advice Bielik recommended continuing with the grant application process until there was a definitive answer about the town’s eligibility.

Finance board members questioned the legal obligation of the town to move forward with bonding money for the fire truck if the town doesn’t apply for the grant.

According to the minutes, Board of Finance member Jack Levine felt the bonding approval was contingent upon submitting a grant application and then bonding if the grant was turned down. He suggested the town hold another meeting to request approval for bonding without seeking the grant.

Board of Finance member Brian Ploss requested a legal opinion from the town’s lawyer to advise the board if it has a legal right to authorize the purchase of a fire truck or if the town must apply for the FEMA grant first, according to the minutes.

In a subsequent interview, Bielik said officials are taking a two-step approach to the issue. First, he said, officials are trying to verify with the national FEMA office whether the town has the capability of applying for the grant. Second, he said, a copy of the resolution, as voted on, has been sent to the town attorney to see if the town could move forward with the bonding.

Bielik said the goal is to have all the questions surrounding the matter answered by the finance board’s Jan. 14 meeting so officials can discuss how to move forward.

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