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Cheshire SAFER grant...this will be interesting...

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  • Cheshire SAFER grant...this will be interesting...

    Your tax dollars at works folks.

    Two towns. 4,000 combined population. $660,000 to recruit volunteer firefighters.

    The Town is now trying to figure out if it's cheaper for them to spend the unneccessary grant, or to deal with a lawsuit from the grant writer who stands to personally gain between $66,000 and $90,000 from the grant.

    Big grant is big pain for small town
    By Ryan Hutton, North Adams Transcript
    Article Launched: 02/07/2007 11:49:21 AM EST

    Wednesday, February 7
    CHESHIRE — On the heels of a massive — unsolicited — grant, the Selectmen have issued a memorandum to all town department heads and boards requiring that any grant applications be reviewed by the board prior to submission.
    "This is normal operating procedure," Town Administrator Mark Webber said at Tuesday night's Selectmen's meeting. "It's always been this way, we just wanted to state it."

    Last week's memorandum came two days before a meeting to discuss the recently awarded grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency grant. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant provides $666,000 for the recruitment and retention of firefighters.

    The larger grant came as a surprise to the board, which had previously approved pursuing a $175,000 grant application for a much-needed rescue truck. That grant failed to come through.

    Astorino said he was upset at the origins of the SAFER grant for Cheshire and Savoy and the signing of the contract with grant writer Samuel Doncel without proper authorization.

    "He did not get (the fire chiefs) the new truck, but he promised them a
    grant. He knows what's easy so he went after it," he said. "If only (the chiefs) had come to us first."
    Town officials are worried that the size of this grant means the likelihood of receiving future federal funding for more immediate needs are slim.

    According to the minutes of last Thursday's night meeting on the grant, Doncel requested an executive session to discuss his contract as the its administrator. But Town Counsel Edmund R. St. John III advised the Selectmen not to enter executive session because the board does not have the authority to give the position to Doncel.

    State laws

    Under state procurement laws, any contract or agreement with the town between $5,000 and $25,000 must get three outside price quotes before a decision can be made, Selectmen Chairwoman Carol Francesconi said Tuesday. If the amount is above $25,000, the job must be officially put out to sealed bid. The administrator's salary is budgeted close to $90,000 in the grant, so it would have to be put out to bid. Since most of the line items in the grant are more than $5,000, especially the advertising phase which early estimates place at $300,000, the procurement laws have to be determined before anything can happen. Violation of the laws can mean penalties and fines.

    Doncel claimed at last week's meeting that he had spoken to Homeland Security and was told the town was exempt form procurement laws. On Tuesday night, Webber said he had called Homeland Security and could not reach anyone to answer his question. The contact number given to the town had not been set up yet. He also called the state inspector general's office, which said the laws did apply.

    "As elected town officials we have to protect the town," Astorino said. "We can't run fast and loose with just verbal say-so. We need written say-so."

    According to the minutes of last Thursday's meeting, Francesconi said the town would wait to hear from Homeland Security before making any decisions. Doncel asked if he would be named grant administrator. The Selectmen informed him that if the procurement laws applied, the job would be put out to bid. Doncel said the grant was an exceptional opportunity that he had brought about.

    "I did a service to the fire departments and there's a straw that breaks the camel's back," he said.

    If Doncel is not made grant administrator, he will be entitled to a writer's fee of 10 percent of the grant, or $66,000. This means Cheshire and Savoy will owe $33,000 each. Because the fire chief had no authority to make a deal with Doncel, the town has the legal recourse not to pay him, but Francesconi said Tuesday it would be a waste of time and money.

    "We'd have to hire a lawyer to fight it and we'd pay that bill anyway," she said. "We get hit one way or the other."

    The Selectmen will meet again to discuss the matter with all parties involved Thursday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m. Francesconi said town would look into transferring the grant to Doncel's control to take the town's name off it. She stressed that the ideal situation for the town would be if the fire departments got their money and the benefits that came with it.

    "We don't want to be perceived as looking a gift horse in the mouth," Webber said. "But on the other side of it, we are bound by Massachusetts laws. We can't minimize them or dismiss them. We have to adhere to them first and foremost."

  • #2
    Boy, I can see beaucoup problems coming this departments direction. Somebody needs to give them a lesson in "reasonable costs" for grant writing expenses. This really smacks of "contingency based" payment. They won't get reimbursed for that snafu!
    Kurt Bradley
    Fire/EMS/EMA Grant Consultant
    " Never Trade Skill for Luck"

    Comment


    • #3
      And the Boston Globe's article:

      Firefighters' windfall comes with a catch
      Grant can't buy needed truck
      By Raja Mishra, Globe Staff | February 9, 2007

      When the fire department in the tiny Berkshire hamlet of Cheshire needed a new fire truck, it asked Uncle Sam for a little help.
      The response last month was stunning: a $665,962 homeland security grant.

      The award was nearly 26 times the annual budget of the volunteer fire department in the town of 3,500. And the rub: The department is not allowed to spend it on a fire truck.

      Instead, the town won a grant to fortify the ranks of its volunteer brigade. Its selectmen plan to huddle later this month to hash out a spending plan.

      Asked how the money will be spent, Cheshire Fire Chief George Sweet cryptically replied yesterday: "Rome wasn't built in a day."

      Sweet said he couldn't say much more about the windfall. Indeed, Cheshire's officialdom is a nervous wreck over it and is reviewing federal grant guidelines.

      "We've never had this much money dropped in our laps," said Cheshire town administrator Mark Webber. "People get fined and go to jail because they don't handle money like this properly."

      Just as Boston, New York, and Washington complained last year when their homeland security grants were reduced while other less likely terrorist targets received more, the Cheshire money seemed to underscore the puzzling nature of some of the agency's spending habits.

      The town does have the Cheshire Cheese Monument, a sizable concrete sculpture of a cheese press commemorating a 1,450-pound cheese hunk given by town elders to Thomas Jefferson in 1801. But its value as a terrorist target is not readily apparent.

      Security specialist James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, was blunt: "It's pure pork. It has nothing to do with homeland security."

      The money comes from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants, a program that was absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security after the agency was established following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

      Asked about Cheshire's grant, Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Val Bunting said yesterday that the town "presented a multifaceted project proposal." She said the grant could be spent over four years, but she would not elaborate .

      Carafano said the emergency response program was designed to funnel money to small fire departments and has wide support in Washington "because everyone has a fire department in their district."

      But now, Carafano said, "the money is spent under the big lie that it's about national security."

      The Cheshire Fire Department wrote two grant requests, one for the fire truck and the other for boosting its 29-member volunteer force. It got a lot more than it bargained for.

      And that is where its spending dilemma began.

      Cheshire -- the smallest town in Massachusetts to get a grant, but the recipient of the largest amount -- is not alone. As part of $94 million in the emergency response grants awarded across the country, Fall River gets $621,000, Concord gets $414,000, Littleton gets $207,000, and Sudbury gets $101,970.

      Cheshire's money can be spent to reimburse volunteers for wages lost at their regular jobs while on duty, new uniforms, and recruiting ad vertisement s. Sweet, who has been chief for 18 years, said the department could use about 10 new volunteers, though it has more pressing needs.

      "We really needed the truck," he said.

      Sweet said that the department has seven fire trucks, "plus an old antique we use for parades." Of particular concern is a 21-year-old refitted ambulance used to ferry medical equipment to fires. He had sought about $175,000 to refurbish or replace it.

      But now that that's off the wish list, Sweet said he might use some of the money to recruit high school students. Or he might put some of the windfall into a marketing campaign to lure volunteers to Cheshire.

      "It'll be on billboards, TVs, and radio stations, and that kind of stuff," he said. "We'll have to spend it wisely."

      Comment


      • #4
        And someone did not like me getting some money for T shirts?


        Wow.

        This just ain't right.

        Comment


        • #5
          I love this comment from the first article:
          "He did not get (the fire chiefs) the new truck, but he promised them a
          grant. He knows what's easy so he went after it," he said.


          Obviously not spoken by someone who has applied for an R & R grant. Where's Culpster--part of the award was for "uniforms"????? And Kurt is spot on--grant writing fees are an eligible expense, but generally on a cash-in-advance basis, not contigency.

          Cost-benefit?? $665,000 over four year to RECRUIT 10 new vollies???? Dang. Not to pick on the grant writer, and i didn't look at the specific PG, but there is typically a "use local procurement standards" type of statement in those--NOT do what you want. And the Selectmen were given a phone number that "is not set up yet for this program"--Helpdesk number hasn't changed since i been doing this. This guy smells funny to me. And looks like a $665,000 black eye coming for the 99% plus who operate totally on the level.

          On the other hand, these two reporters may have misunderstood most of what they heard.

          earl (rant over.

          Comment


          • #6
            The fee is more than legal if they are not requesting reimbursement from AFG for the fees. The legality of who authorized the application is another story.

            I wish I could make $66K on one application. Too bad I have one of those conscience things, I have to write about 200 apps outside of the free agreements to make that much. Amazing what 'grant writers' tell people sometimes.
            Brian P. Vickers
            www.vickersconsultingservices.com
            Emergency Services Consulting
            Westlake VFD - Houston, TX
            Proud Member IACOJ - Redneck Division

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by ktb9780 View Post
              Boy, I can see beaucoup problems coming this departments direction. Somebody needs to give them a lesson in "reasonable costs" for grant writing expenses. This really smacks of "contingency based" payment. They won't get reimbursed for that snafu!

              There are tons of writers out there still working on 'contingency based' payment. They're just doing it the nod-and-wink way by making an upfront agreement to not charge for the app but to be the administrator if awarded. Most folks on here would be shocked to know how many departments hook up with a writer and never read the program guidelines for themselves. Mr. Slick comes in, makes the old "you don't pay me if we don't win" pitch and they go for it.

              This also seems to be a huge amount for the population served. My county has a population of 75,000 - all protected by volunteer or mostly volunteer departments. We got an R&R for the ENTIRE COUNTY and the total was less than half of this award.

              As painful as it may sound, my advice would be to turn it down before someone winds up in PMITA prison.

              Comment


              • #8
                When i saw that award listed for R & R, i assumed it was a pretty big regional project with multi-media and so on. I've not re-read the articles, but was he asking for $90,000 to administer the grant, or $90,000/year to administer the grant?

                earl

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Greenacres2 View Post
                  When i saw that award listed for R & R, i assumed it was a pretty big regional project with multi-media and so on. I've not re-read the articles, but was he asking for $90,000 to administer the grant, or $90,000/year to administer the grant?

                  earl
                  $22,500 a year for administration.The Globe article looks like they don't know the difference between AFG and SAFER. It makes it seem like they applied for both at the same time.
                  Kurt Bradley
                  Fire/EMS/EMA Grant Consultant
                  " Never Trade Skill for Luck"

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    These are two small towns in population with a large land area to cover. There is also a state forest preserve in Savoy so they have to protect against possible attack by terrorist beetles. :-]
                    Sounds to me that the paid grant writer may have taken some liberties after failing to get them an AFG for the vehicle . Besides thats only 166.50 per capita. As to his fee for service , nice work if you can get them to pay it!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Oh My Oh My

                      Originally posted by ktb9780 View Post
                      Boy, I can see beaucoup problems coming this departments direction. Somebody needs to give them a lesson in "reasonable costs" for grant writing expenses. This really smacks of "contingency based" payment. They won't get reimbursed for that snafu!
                      As a former Selectman in a small western Mass town and now the fire chief, of a district not too far from Savoy, what a mess. "Reasonable cost" for grant writing, is the least of their problems. By law a mass town can't even accept grant funds without authorization from town meeting. This is the only way that a town can expend funds. If that's not enough grief the Mass bid laws are going to be a killer.

                      My two cents

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by EFD840 View Post
                        PMITA prison.
                        Make that FEDERAL PMITA prison.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          This grant writer has really played them. I don't even believe he read the PGs for SAFER or AFG. He applies for a "rescue truck" under AFG. As a rural department they were dead from the start applying for a priority 2 vehicle.

                          He tells them local procurement laws are exempt. The PG states:

                          (5)Ensure all procurement actions are conducted in a manner that provides, to the maximum extent possible, open and free competition. In doing so, the grantee must follow its established procurement processes when purchasing vehicles, equipment,and services with the grant funds. If the grantee has no established procedures, it shouldobtain at least two quotes/bids for the items being procured and document in the grant files the process used. Sole-source purchasing is not an acceptable procurement method except in unusual circumstances.
                          He applies for a SAFER grant, but fails to get Town involvement and approval. Another PG requirement.

                          By law a mass town can't even accept grant funds without authorization from town meeting.
                          Not only does town meeting accept the funding, they approve the matching portion also. Mass procurement laws have to be followed.

                          This will be an interesting case to follow.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            This grant writer has really played them.
                            Gee I've never heard of such things before. Almost as bad as the outfit charging 10% of the award upon the day of acceptance. I know of at least 3 departments that had to turn down truck awards (badly needed) because their annual budgets were less than what they owed the 'grant writer'.
                            Brian P. Vickers
                            www.vickersconsultingservices.com
                            Emergency Services Consulting
                            Westlake VFD - Houston, TX
                            Proud Member IACOJ - Redneck Division

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Lot of issues here. Working for a municipality we work with grant writers and project managers all of the time. USDA Rural Development Grants and Community Development Block Grants all have project management fees built into the grant,which is how every single grant of this type is managed and the "grant writer" is paid.

                              We have a friend whose department received a SAFER. We have looked at one for our county, but don't know if we want to put in the 4 year investment to accomplish all of the goals. One of the points in the SAFER grant was the hiring of a marketing consultant for the implementation of the 4 year project. This is logical since most VFD's do not have the expertise or time to put together a full blown marketing plan, which is one of the items that the PG recommends and says is a priority. If they did they would already have a Volunteer Recruitment and Retention program and wouldn't need the grant. If the "grant writer" is really the marketing consultant, then higher fees are not abnormal. We have talked to several and their fees are in the $150 to $300 per hour range for true marketing development.

                              Sounds like the grant writer did a number of things wrong, however, if the department was on board, sounds like they may have thrown him under the bus once the city found out what was going on. If there is a signed contract, did they not have their city review the contract? Did they actually have the authority to sign the contract? The guy should have went to the city officials first and made sure the Selectman board had voted on the contract approval.

                              In cities we always want free money, but I learned a long time ago, nothing is free. Professional services are typically undervalued. We have a number of grant writer/project administers that have always been up front with us and do a wonderful job. I can tell you I don't want to be the one that keeps up with all of the paperwork and reporting required with any of our city's grants. They earn every penny.

                              I bet we will find there is much more to this story than is in the paper. I am sure both sides have a story.

                              Comment

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