New Haven officials met Monday to discuss possible uses of a $9.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded to the city last week.
City officials said they expect the grant, which was awarded under a special program for urban areas, to help pay for efforts to improve the city’s emergency preparedness. In addition, the grant is expected to fund part of the purchase of a fireboat for New Haven’s harbor.
While the grant has been earmarked for New Haven, city officials need to submit a report to the Department of Homeland Security by Jan. 31 to receive funding. The city will have 80 percent of the grant — about $7.7 million — at its discretion, while the state will be permitted to determine how the other 20 percent is spent in projects throughout the New Haven region.
Roland Lemar, a spokesman for New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., said the city’s greatest homeland security needs include reimbursing overtime costs associated with “Code Orange” alerts, purchasing new equipment for the police and fire departments and other city agencies, and improving the city’s communications capabilities in the event of an emergency.
But he said state and city officials would need to determine how much of the money would go towards the fireboat. Both Lemar and DuBois-Walton said that while the fireboat would be housed in the city, the city viewed it as a state project and hoped the state and other Connecticut cities would help fund it.
Because the awarding of the grant caught the city by surprise, officials initially believed that New Haven would be required to devote the entire sum to funding the fireboat, which would be used in part to protect oil pipelines running through the city’s harbor. But city officials later learned that the grant can be administered toward a wide range of programs, as long as they are included in the proposal sent to the federal government.
Karen DuBois-Walton, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the grant was “very welcome but surprising news.” She said the city had planned to apply for several other homeland security grants but was not aware that it would be eligible for funding under the Urban Area Security Initiative.
“We didn’t realize that we were in the running for this pot of money at all,” said DuBois-Walton, who oversees several city agencies responsible for homeland security, including the police and fire departments. “This decision was not something that local folks had any real say in.”
U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesman Rachel Sunbarger said the allocation of the grants was determined by three factors — population density, critical infrastructure and intelligence information about possible threats. Unlike many other programs the department administers, local governments do not submit bids for funding in a competitive process.
“Certainly, we work with the state and local governments on a regular basis, so we understand the needs and priorities of different regions,” Sunbarger said. “There were probably a few cities that were delighted to see some additional funds.”
Under the program — which provided $675 million in grants to 50 cities — New York, Chicago and Washington received the largest provision of funds. New Haven, however, received more than several other cities, including Denver, New Orleans and San Antonio.
In addition, the local Shoreline East rail system will receive an $800,000 grant, while Metro-North will be provided with almost $2.7 million in homeland security funding.