By DANIEL HERATY
DEARBORN – Minimum staffing levels for the Fire and Police departments will not change, officials said.
Councilors July 12 voted down a resolution that would have placed an issue on the November ballot to suspend minimum staffing requirements – currently 121 for the Fire Department and 205 for the Police Department – during yearly negotiations to set the budgets for each department.
Staffing requirements would have gone into effect if post-retirement benefits exceeded 20 percent of each department’s budget for the succeeding year. The potential proposals would have gone into effect the year after voter approval.
The measures three to two. Two councilors, Suzanne Sareini and Nancy Hubbard, were not present for the vote.
Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said that the city charter requires a set number of police officers and firefighters, regardless of affordability and the retirement fund’s percentage of each department’s budget was “in the single digits” as early as 2001. The retirement benefit fund now consumes half of the budget for the Police Department and 40 percent of the budget for the Fire Department.
“That mandate … is consuming more revenues and leaving less for other city services,” O’Reilly said, adding that there were other issues suggested during budget discussions, but this stood out as the best option.
“We believe that this is the responsible one because it’s tied to an economic situation, as opposed to just saying it shouldn’t exist,” he said.
He said suspending the edict would allow for more city services and would not affect the number of department staffing.
Councilmen David Bazzy and Brian O’Donnell voted against the proposals, saying that they would prefer to see the issue taken up during collective bargaining. O’Donnell said that the elimination of a handful of individual positions will not be enough to offset the $20 million budget deficit.
“I would much rather, instead of voting in November, we have a July contract, come up with an understanding and work on it that way, versus eliminating the staff,” he said.
Bazzy agreed, saying that he would be happier with a memorandum of understanding, which outlines an agreement between two parties.
Dr. Joseph Murray, who spoke of behalf of the firefighters, said he was pleased with the outcome, and that now isn’t the time to discuss further reducing staff, which could result in removing trucks from service.
“Right now, when we’re all in service, our response time is four minutes,” he said. “Taking trucks out of service, you have to start supplying staff from other stations. An Emergency Medical Services response of more than five minutes has a huge impact on saving lives.”
Gregg Allgeier, president of the Police Officers Association of Dearborn said that he wants to see the issue worked out on a one-on-one basis with the Mayor.
“I just urge (the council) to allow us to work this out with Mayor O’Reilly,” he said. “We are a reasonable people. I think we can work it out in collective bargaining. We want to keep Dearborn safe and sound.”
The councilors also approved a 3.5 mill, or taxable value on property, increase for five years which would raise about $12 million to help offset the city’s financial challenges, a one mill increase, or $ 3.5 million, which would provide money for the libraries, and a proposal that would eliminate the civil service system and replace it with a human resources commission.
(Daniel Heraty can be reached at [email protected])