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Federal grant will help Converse hire more firefighters

September 25, 2018

The city of Converse placed six new firefighting positions in its 2018-19 budget, which starts Monday. The impact on the budget now has been minimized, as the city received a federal grant worth more than a half-million dollars to hire more firefighters.

Fire Chief Luis Valdez informed the Converse City Council at its Sept. 18 meeting that the department has been named the recipient of a $566,157 grant from the Department of Homeland Security directed at hiring and budgeting for new firefighters.

Valdez, who was sworn in as the city’s new fire chief on Sept. 4, said he is grateful for the grant and it will help the city as it moves forward with its annexation and continues to grow.

“I’ve been in the fire service for a long time, and I’ve never known anyone to get that grant,” said Valdez, who gave credit for the grant to Stella Calvillo, the city’s grant writer.

“I walked into a really good situation here in Converse,” he said. “This is 100 percent to Stella and her work. That’s a very tough grant to get.”

The grant is awarded to cities “for staffing for adequate fire and emergency response programs,” such as those Converse is undertaking in the coming budget year. It proposed hiring six more firefighters and three additional police officers.

Valdez said the grant will provide 75 percent of the pay for six firefighters the first year of the grant.

It pays 50 percent in year two and 25 percent in the third year, with the firefighters’ salaries rolling into the city budget in the fourth year and onward.

“It’s an outstanding achievement for the city of Converse,” he added.

Mayor Al Suarez said last week that the city will use the funds to augment the positions it had already built into the budget.

“We were planning to hire six more positions anyway, and the Homeland Security grant is for six more,” Suarez said. “This will save us the $500,000-plus it would cost us over the next three years.”

He said the city may look at different ways to use the firefighter hiring funding already built into its budget that will now be freed by the grant money.

“There may be some things we did not address in the budget because we didn’t have the funds to do them. Once we receive the grant money, that budget funding becomes available” over the next three years, the mayor said.

He said some cities might not apply for the grant because the outlined firefighter positions must become permanent after three years.

“Not everyone can afford to take on a large number of new positions like that,” he said, “but we were hiring six more this year anyway.”

Valdez told the council that he received correspondence from the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who will be presenting the check to the city at a meeting Suarez said is likely to be held on Oct. 15.

In other action, council gave Calvillo permission to apply for a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant of $100,000 that would be used for building a splash pad at Converse North Park.

Calvillo told council that the grant is a 50-50 match, which would leave the city responsible for $50,000 of the total $100,000 cost.

City Manager Le Ann Piatt said if the city is awarded the grant, it would attempt to find funding in the budget to meet the match.

Calvillo said the city would know by February if it has been selected.

“Hopefully, it would be done before summer; that would be the goal,” Calvillo added.

Part of the design of the pad “is to make it ADA-accessible ... so it could be a little bit wider, to accommodate everyone,” she said.

jflinn@express-news.net

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