In December 1993 our township trustee contacted us about the possibility of applying for a Community Focus Fund Grant. These are federal grants
that are distributed through the Indiana Department of Commerce. We, of course, said 'yes'. We never turn down the opportunity for free money.
The grants are for major community projects such as water systems, buildings, etc., but they are also given for smaller items such as fire trucks. About all we really knew was the agency receiving the grant must provide 10% of the grant. We thought about maybe getting $200,000-300,000 and getting two or three new trucks. We were thinking big. To our knowledge no other department in our county had even applied for this grant, much less received one.
In January 1994 a representative from the Southern Indiana Development Commission (SIDC) met with us. They are the official middlemen for the grant process. He brought us down to earth with the facts:
The grants are mainly for municipalities, although they do give grants for fire trucks if enough need is shown. Getting a grant for a fire truck would be an uphill battle.
Only one truck could be purchased with the grant, and the maximum amount given for a fire truck was ~$120,000.
The official matching amount is 10% of the grant, but to be considered the department would need to have 20% or more 'to show serious interest'.
To even be able to apply for the grant the township had to show it was poor enough. The township's assessed valuation had to be less than $10 million and 51% or more of the township households had to be of 'low to moderate income'.
Although the grant awards aren't supposed to be political, they are. He recommended that we get letters of support from as many politicians, businesses, etc. asking for us to be awarded a grant.
After our meeting with SIDC we realized what a daunting task lay ahead. We barely had enough money on hand for 10% matching, much less 20%! That didn't even include anything for equipment for the truck. We guestimated that by the time we would need the money we would have enough, but we'd have to be frugal and work hard on the fundraising. We wouldn't have to have our portion of the money until delivery of the truck which would be at least a year at the earliest.
Our trustee said she would take care of getting the letters we needed. She also said the assessed valuation of our township was less than $10 million, so that was not a concern. Our trustee, a real sweetheart, was as excited as we were about the possibility of getting a new fire truck.
Our first major hurdle was showing that at least 51% of our households were 'low to moderate income'. The most recent data available, the last census, showed in the 30% range. Although the census consisted of a small sampling of the households and was very sloppy, it was the most recent official data. If we couldn't show at least 51% we would not even be able to apply for the grant. Our only course of action was to perform our own income survey, then have it validated. SIDC supplied the forms and guidance for this massive undertaking. We would have to go to each of the 1000+ households in our township and ask them three simple questions. Their answers determined whether the household was above or below the cutoff for being 'low to moderate income'. The following questions were asked:
"How many people are in the household?"
"Do any of these people file their own tax return?" If they do it makes them a household unto themselves, and they are considered seperately.
Given the amount of people in the household you look at a sheet to determine the cutoff amount for 'low to moderate income'. You then ask the person if the household income is above or below that amount.
That's all there is to it. The survey usually takes less than a minute. We were a little uncomfortable asking people personal financial questions, but only a few of the 1000+ people refused to answer. The person's name and address went on one sheet, and the financial information went on a seperate sheet. The two sheets were kept apart so it was a secure process.
It took about three weeks of continuous work to complete the survey. The completed forms were sent to a professor at Indiana State University who validated the survey and determined 53% of our households were 'low to moderate income'. WE HAD PASSED THE FIRST HURDLE! We could apply for the grant.
SIDC took care of assembling the actual grant application. They asked us for information to put into the application...everything imaginable. Past/present/future financial records, maps, plans, etc., etc.... The finished grant application was ~1 inch thick. No kidding! SIDC submitted the application. Some Department of Commerce people came down and interviewed us. We had done all we could do. Now we had to wait until the grants were awarded and see if we got one.
The grants were awarded in May. We were disappointed, but not surprised, that we didn't receive an award. The SIDC people said it was rare to get a grant the first time out. We reapplied for the next round of grants to be awarded. We had already did all the hard work the first time around. This time would be much easier.
I was surprised when my dad (the chief) called me in late October and said we had received a grant for $115,000. The grant wasn't supposed to be awarded until late November. He said the trustee told him it was because of the elections in November (politics again). We didn't care why, we were just thrilled to have gotten one. He said November 1 was the official award date, and we would be going to Indianapolis for the official ceremony. That day we went to the statehouse, and our state representative, Jerry Denbo, took us on an interesting tour of the capital building.
Now that we had the grant we had to get bids on the truck and get it ordered. Because it is a federal grant that is administered through a state agency it seemed like there was a million official procedures to go through. The truck had to be bid in 'x' number of months, and delivered in 'y' number of months.
We had to wait a couple months for the official grant award paperwork to reach the county courthouse. Because the fire department is not a governmental entity the county commissioners had to apply for the grant on our behalf. After we received the official paperwork we had to publicly advertise that we were going to get a firetruck. When this was completed we were able to actually send out bid packages.
I sent out bid packages to 17 fire truck manufacturers, but only received 4 bids (Pierce, E-One, Darley, and American). I was very surprised. I thought since we had money to spend that the truck manufacturers would beat a path to our door. Many I spoke to were too busy, had no representatives in our area, didn't build that type of truck, etc. We were hoping to get a lot of bids, and to be able to get a good truck at a low price. Silly us!
The truck we had spec'd was basically a Class A pumper with an 1800 gallon tank. None of the bidders offered anything larger than 1500 gallons, so according to the rules we had to reject them all. We rewrote the specs, changing the tank to 1500 gallons, and rebid. This time we got bids from (no surprise) Pierce, E-One, and Darley. Our hopes of getting a low price was pie in the sky. The truck manufacturers know how much grant money you have and seem to bid right up to that amount. All the bids were in the mid 130's.
We decided to accept the Darley bid. All the trucks were good ones, but Darley offered some free or cheap upgrades (pump ugrade, rescue-style doors, additional discharges, etc.) for the lowest price. Unfortunately, the red tape appeared again. The Darley didn't meet one of our specs and they had to be disqualified. We then decided on the E-One. We downgraded the pump from 1250 gpm to 1000, and the cost savings allowed us the outfit the truck similar to what the Darley would have been. FINALLY, the hard work was over. Well, almost...
We had planned on purchasing the chassis at the local International dealer, and having it sent to E-One. However, we found out that the state would only issue one check, and it would be to E-One. We had been told earlier they would issue one to E-One and one to the local chassis dealer. E-One had no problem getting the chassis from the local dealer, but the local dealer would have to wait for payment until the truck was delivered to us. Understandably, the dealer couldn't wait several months for a $48,000 payment, so E-One got the chassis through their normal supplier. It didn't cost us anymore money, but we had been planning to spend a little of the grant money locally. This was another case of the red tape biting us in the butt.
The E-One dealer, Ken Boes, was very helpful getting the final details in order. He had some good suggestions on little extras to add, things we hadn't
thought about or known about. We took delivery of the truck in March, 1996. We are VERY happy with the truck, as it has met or exceeded all our
Indiana Department of Commerce
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