Newburgh councilwoman: Firefighter grant ‘like robbing Peter to pay Paul’

While U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Assemblyman Frank Skartados scrambling to save 10 City of Newburgh firefighters from the unemployment, Councilwoman Karen Mejia publicly raised an issue others must have considered: Should the city rely on temporary grants to pay for first responders.

Two years ago Newburgh tapped a Federal Emergency Management Agency program that funds the hiring of firefighters for understaffed departments. The city’s $2.4 million grant allowed it to hire 15 firefighters, with FEMA covering their salaries and benefits for two years.

On the day local officials celebrated the grant at a press conference, a timer began winding down to the day of reckoning. Would Newburgh be able to absorb the new hires’ salaries when the grant ran out. So far, the answer is no, with 10 fireman scheduled to be laid off on Dec. 31.

“Folks who approved the grant knew that it was a grant, and you should not be staffing crucial, critical personnel of a city based on grants,” Mejia said. “This is like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

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