Joining U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and Southgate Mayor Joseph Kuspa (second from right) were Fire Chief Doug Gildner (third from left) and three newly-hired firefighters (from left) Casey Rogowski, Kenneth Brown and Steve Cholette. The positions were made possible by a federal grant sought earlier this year.
By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE — It was, in so many ways, a banner day for the Southgate Fire Department. It wasn’t just the presence of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich) — notable itself — but the reason for the visit: A Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that brings five firefighter positions to the department.
As pleased as city officials were to greet Levin Tuesday, Mayor Joseph Kuspa said that Levin seemed equally interested in how Southgate has weathered the southeast Michigan economic storm. During a pre-ceremony meeting with Kuspa, Levin had questions of his own.
“He spent a lot of time asking about what we were able to do and how we were able to pull it off without a single layoff,” Kuspa said.
Southgate’s recent history is one of preparedness. Kuspa said that beginning in 2010, city officials circled their wagons to prevent anticipated budget shortfalls from costing jobs. Within the fire department a few positions were not replaced after retirements, for example, and the now-obtained Federal Emergency Management Agency’s $791,680 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program
grant allows the department to maintain peak staffing levels with neither layoffs nor tax hikes. The Southgate Fire Department has 28 firefighters along with administration, a “stable workforce,” Kuspa said.
Earlier this year, during a February State of the City address, Kuspa outlined programs designed to reduce costs yet maintain current efficiencies. These, he said, required teamwork and a cooperative spirit, whether within the departments of city hall or across municipal boundaries, such as the creation of a Downriver Central Dispatch in partnership with Lincoln Park and Wyandotte. Both the Department of Public Works and Downtown Development Authority sought and obtained grants that brought jobs and reveune to the city.
“I don’t think there’s any secret,” Kuspa said. “What works is the cooperative efforts between elected officials and employees. Teamwork is really the big one, assembling the right people. The grants help, but you have to have the right team in place.”
Kuspa said that Levin — whose political career began at the city hall level and gives him an understanding of the local issues to be addressed — took note of Southgate’s cost-saving measures including next spring’s relocation of school district offices into the city hall complex.
The federal grant allows the department to hire five firefighters, three of whom have already signed on and were in attendance at Tuesday’s ceremony. Two others will be on call within two months, Kuspa said.
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])