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Fremont City Council discusses firefighter position funding at budget meeting

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Firefighters and hose on firetruck

Fremont Fire Department firefighters Riley McCoy, front left, and Christian McKenzie pull a hose off a truck at the station.

The Fremont City Council continued discussion of its 2021-2023 biennial budget at a special meeting held Tuesday.

During the meeting, Director of Finance Jody Sanders held a presentation on the finer details of the budget, including general use funds.

The discussion turned toward the hiring of six firefighters, which was proposed in the budget with the use of Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants.

If the grants, which can be applied for in May and September, are unable to be obtained, the positions are set to temporarily be funded by the city’s Immigration Defense Fund.

Councilmember Mark Legband said instead of waiting for the grants, he wanted to look into hiring at least three firefighters as soon as possible.

“And then hopefully, we can get the other three on with the SAFER grants so we don’t have to wait nine months,” he said.

However, Fremont Fire Department Chief Todd Berndt said the SAFER grants are given out according to the number of people in the department and said staggering the hires may not be viewed positively.

“I would love to get those three right away, but I think if we’re going to go for the SAFER grant, we should probably just do it all in one bunch and show a bigger chance of getting that grant,” he said. “I think we have a higher chance of being successful.”

Although Councilmember Glen Ellis was concerned that having the positions already budgeted for would lower the city’s chances of receiving a grant, Bernt said he believed the budgeting wouldn’t impact it.

Ellis also expressed concern with using the immigration funds to fund the positions, as he said Fremont’s citizens voted to have the funds on standby for any potential legal issues.

“Whether you agree with it or not, I think we should honor the citizens’ requests,” he said. “I believe that there’s got to be some place where we can come up [with] $300,000.”

Councilmember Brad Yerger introduced a motion that he said would direct staff to what he believed needed to be on the budget, including funding the six positions without using the immigration fund.

“There are probably other ways that we can look at and ought to look at, and I think as Councilman Ellis has indicated, there are numerous ways that we could at least attempt to look at funding that without draining the immigration fund,” he said.

The motion also includes more funding for dispatch personnel, removing the Southeast Beltway Project and repairing the Fremont Police Department’s building.

“I offer this as a motion for this council to approve and recommend to staff to do additional research and take those items out accordingly, see if it has an effect on the funding that you’re looking for and then certainly to ensure that we’re capturing these items in the budget,” Yerger said.

Ellis said he liked the motion but added an amendment to give the city council the ability to modify the city government structure to separate the city and utility sides of administration positions.

While Legband said he partially agreed with the motion, he said he didn’t find it to be feasible.

“The mayor has had a great budget. Yes, maybe we could look at some other things, and there are a few things on here I agree with,” he said. “But to totally dismantle everything and throw this out there, I don’t see it, and I don’t see a need for it.”

Councilmember Sally Ganem said although there was merit to a lot of the issues that should be examined, she said she believed the council needed outside help with the budget process.

“I think certainly there was merit to what Councilman Ellis had presented to us a couple of weeks ago on examining maybe the structure, but I wouldn’t be willing to just throw that out right now and just say we’re going to put it in the budget and we’re going to change the structure,” she said.

Yerger’s motion and Ellis’ amendment both failed 2-5.

Aaron Baggarly of Matrix Consulting Group and Fremont Fire Department Chief Todd Bernt answer questions from the public at an input meeting at the Fremont City Auditorium Wednesday night.

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