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Grants = 1 cop, 6 firefighters
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Six firefighters will be paid for over a two-year period and one police officer for three years under separate federal grants snagged by the city of Ceres.

Ceres is only one of 14 fire departments in California to win a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Approximately 2,000 cities applied across the country.

The $1.03 million SAFER grant will fund six firefighters for two years, with no obligation for the city to continue their employment unless it finds general fund monies to do so.

The hiring of six firefighters will help the city achieve three-person staffing at the city's four fire stations. Acting City Manager and Police Chief Art deWerk said three-man staffing allows for a more efficient fire operation as well as improves safety for both firefighters and the public.

DeWerk said the new hires will likely be experienced firefighters who have lost jobs in other cities which have scaled back on employees due to budgetary constraints. The city prefers experienced firefighters since training would detract from actual service on the job. He said a letter would be drafted with the Ceres Professional Firefighters union to stipulate that the jobs are not guaranteed past the two-year grant funding period.

Captain Eric Holly said two-man engine companies usually arrive within four to six minutes of a call - Ceres Fire responded to 4,000 calls last year - but are limited in response until arrival of a second unit. A safety law dictates that two firefighters may go into a burning structure only if two are on the outside.

Mayor Chris Vierra said he appreciated the staff's effort to write a successful grant application and hopes the city faces a "very much brighter revenue (picture in 24 months) and we're able to continue with all of the services."

Extra officer

On Monday the Ceres City Council voted to accept a $289,254 U.S. Department of Justice grant to fund one police officer for three years. In accepting the funds, the city is committed to hiring that officer for an additional fourth year.

The position means two open police officer positions will remain frozen instead of three because the money is not available.

The federal grant requires the officer to be a U.S. military veteran and that the city initiate or enhance community policing.

Vierra said he is "hopeful that three years down the road the economy will look a lot better" to continue funding the officer.

Vice Mayor Ken Lane said an extra officers makes a difference in the speed and ability to respond to calls.

Labor concessions

Also on Monday, the council approved labor agreements with four of the city's six units to offer concessions in order to help the city balance achieve a balanced budget. The concessions are part of the two-year agreements and vary from group to group. For example, police officers accepted a five percent pay cut and forfeit holiday pay. Firefighters gave up two percent of salary, gave up holiday pay and uniform pay.

The city expects the concessions will save $1.5 million of which $970,000 is general fund dollars.

The 2012-13 fiscal budget was trimmed of $1.8 million from what department heads had hoped to spend. The budget contains $15.18 million in the general fund, of which the lion's share is spent on public safety operations in Ceres.

Department heads submitted proposed expenditures of $16.98 million. The difference was made up by spending reductions, an anticipated 10 percent reduction in pay for all six labor groups, deferring the replacement of old and worn out equipment, keeping an unfilled police officer position frozen and using $606,441 of Measure H funds earmarked for public safety. The budget is also balanced through use of $52,267 in general fund reserves.

Furlough days will be achieved by closing Dec. 21-Jan. 1 this year, said Betina McCoy, the city's interim Human Resources manager.