Layoffs Mean Georgia Department May Have to Return Grant

Posted: 07-04-2008
Updated: 07-07-2008 10:20:54 AM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The East Point Fire Department may have to pay back more than $1 million in federal funds if recent layoffs are found to have violated the original agreement under which the grant was made.

According to Brian Cowan, director of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program office in the Department of Homeland Security, East Point was awarded a $1.5 million grant in December 2005 to help it meet national fire response standards.

The grant, Cowan said, essentially paid for 15 new firefighters, at a cost of $100,000 each, over a five-year period.

"If they do not maintain that number of new firefighters or those already employed by the department," the department will have to repay grant monies disbursed to date, Cowan said. "The grant agreement stipulates if they are unable to complete the grant, they'll have to return the funds."

Cowan said that so far, East Point has received more than $1 million.

The grant now is in its third year, city officials said. In a statement issued Thursday, the city acknowledged it may have to repay the federal funds.

"In no longer participating in the grant program, it is estimated that the city may, ultimately, be obligated to pay back $1,050,000 over a period of time that is to be negotiated," the statement said.

"In anticipating the likelihood of a payback of the grant, staff, in the beginning of the process, spoke with FEMA regarding our fiscal situation and they have been working with us since our initial contact."

East Point laid off about 50 firefighters Monday.

"Again, we are disheartened by the need to reduce our staff and the impact it has on families," the statement continued.

"However, the city is in a better financial position to accommodate negotiated payments rather than continue to operate the government at a level that we cannot afford."

Though he is aware of news reports of layoffs in the department, Cowan said he has not received any official notification from the department regarding its current number of firefighters. He said he expects a quarterly report in late August or early September.