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Seventeen East St. Louis firefighters will lose their jobs at the end of the month. The Belleville News-Democrat reports that City Manager Deletra Hudson sent a letter to the firefighters saying the city "has been forced to make some difficult financial decisions to meet its budgetary obligations."
The firefighters had been hired with federal grant money. When the grant ran out in March, East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks said the city found some extra money to keep the firefighters on the job until the end of September.
Parks told the paper that he expects eight of the laid off firefighters to be called back when the new city budget kicks in January 1st.
East St. Louis currently employs 54 firefighters.
Some metro-east pastors are upset with the City of East St. Louis for levying what they call a tax on churches.
On January 1st, the city imposed a $100 registration fee on churches and nonprofits. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the annual fee is supposed to offset the city's cost of doing fire and safety inspections.
Local pastors spoke out against the fee at Thursday's City Council meeting. Many blamed Mayor Alvin Parks, who defends the fee. The city council considered the pastors argument and pushed back the fee deadline from June 30th to September 30th.
Houses of worship have generally been exempt from taxes since a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue. Civic fees charged against houses of worship have been struck down as "church taxes" in the past.
The East St. Louis Fire Department gets a substantial part of it's funding from a federal grant. That grant is about to run out. The firefighter's union says that means 22 of the department's 53 firefighters would be let go.
Mayor Alvin Parks says the city is reapplying for the grant, but it could be denied. Parks told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that happens, the city would only need to lay off 10-15 firefighters because of a tax increase that took effect in January.
The firefighters union says they're already short on personnel and resources, unable to send more than 6 firefighters to any one fire scene.
The firefighters are making their case with Youtube video, which had nearly 40,000 hits in the first two days since it was posted.
According to their video, East St. Louis firefighters answer a lot of calls. About half of all 9-1-1 calls in East St. Louis last year, 950 calls were for fires.