After three meetings and occasionally testy debate, the voted Monday to accept a to hire eight new firefighters for two years.
The vote, however, was not unanimous. At-Large Councilwoman Jan Quillman and District 1 Councilman Larry Hug voted against it.
"I don't want to gamble with taxpayers' money," Quillman said. "I don't think this is sustainable."
The question that cannot be answered is what the city would do if several firefighters decided to leave or retire within the two-year period. The grant obligates the city to replace the departing employees, requiring unbudgeted money to be spent on training, uniforms and gear, only to perhaps lay off the new hires in less than two years.
Joliet might secure a waiver so one vacancy could go unfilled, but the odds of getting more than one pass from the Federal Emergency Management Agency seem unlikely, officials said.
City Manager Tom Thanas said that was a risk he was willing to take, in part because he anticipates the city could save as much as $2.4 million in overtime for the duration of the grant.
It's true some of that money will have to go toward training and outfitting the new firefighters, Thanas said. But the rest could be used for other expenses, such as equipment purchases, that have been postponed due to decreased tax revenue and a flat-lined housing market, he said.
If new firefighters must be hired, the savings from the grant will help cover the expense. Without the grant, the fire department would have no choice but to go into deficit spending because overtime is unavoidable if the city's nine fire houses are to be fully manned, he said.
"I can't argue with you, Jan," Thanas said in response to Quillman's questions. "Will it cost us money (to hire eight new firefighters)? Yes, it will. Will it save us some money? Yes, it will."
District 2 Councilman Bob O'Dekirk, who was the first to raise a flag over the potential problems with the grant, ended up approving its acceptance but added that he did not feel locked in to keeping all of the jobs filled should there be a large number of firefighter departures.
"If that jeoparidizes the grant," the city will have to deal with the fallout then, he said.
It's estimated that the new firefighters, one of whom may be Mayor Tom Giarrante's grandson, could be on board by year's end.