Oct 13, 2012 4:05 PM by AP
LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - The Lafayette Fire Department will receive a federal $1.67 million grant that could pay for 20 new firefighters over a two-year period.
Fire Chief Robert Benoit tells The Advocate the money comes as the city has been searching for a funding source to staff two new fire stations that Benoit argues are needed to serve the growing city.
In addition, nine vacant positions within the department have gone unfilled because of budget constraints.
Benoit said no final decision has been made on specifics of how the grant-funded positions will fit into the department's staffing plan.
The Fire Department now has 245 employees.
Benoit said in a presentation to the council earlier this year that from 30 to 60 new firefighters would be needed to staff two additional fire stations and to bring the overall force up to appropriate levels.
Benoit has said that without the expansion, Lafayette could see its fire rating drop when the ratings are re-evaluated next year. A downward shift could increase homeowners' insurance rates in the city an average of 9 percent.
The City-Parish Council earlier this year discussed a public safety tax proposal that involved asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax while letting two existing fire and police property taxes expire, bringing a net annual tax revenue increase of about $10 million.
The council deferred action in January and has not revisited the issue.