Bellefonte Council explores grant possibility for fire code inspector

In the wake of all the fires that have torn a hole through Bellefonte in recent years, borough officials are looking for outside funding to make the town safer.

Borough Council discussed applying for a grant at its work session Monday that would put federal dollars toward the appointment of a fire inspector position over a two-year span.

If the grant is awarded, the new employee would work on educating the public and take over the inspection duties from the borough code official.

Councilman Tom Wilson said the position could point toward tangible effort on the part of the borough to fixing the problem with fires.

“When the citizens come and say, ‘What are we doing to protect the historical buildings in Bellefonte?’ this is something we can point to,” he said.

The position would be 100 percent federally funded through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, and after two years the borough would have to decide whether to keep the employee on permanently, Councilman Walt Schneider said.

Schneider said there has been no firm determination about what the salary would be, but he guessed after benefits it could be between $60,000 and $70,000.

The borough and surrounding townships have tried unsuccessfully four times to get SAFER grant funding for staff retention and recruitment, he said. It is a competitive grant, but Bellefonte officials are hoping they can make the cut.

Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said the position would help improve the safety of the buildings and residents because the educational component would be a key. With his other responsibilities, Stewart said code official Russell Shuey does not have enough time to get out in the community and work on those education projects.

“We want a safe community,” Stewart said. “Education is a key to promoting the prevention.”

After the grant would expire, council said they will have to continue the discussion of extending the position. Several council members said because the educational service would be extended to the surrounding townships, some money could be pitched from those municipalities to help fund it going forward.

There is no provision in the grant demanding the borough extend the position after the two years, but Schneider said it would be important to find the funding to make this stick.

“We are looking at this as a long-term solution, not a short-term solution,” he said.