By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – The Fire Department moved closer to its staffing goal last week with eight positions added to the ranks. The positions increase the department’s staff to 31; fire union officials have fought for a year to restore more than 30 positions lost to layoffs.
The restored positions, however, are separate from pending recalls that may be financed through a federal grant. Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand said the restored positions authorized Wednesday were made possible through negotiations between the city and Taylor Fire Fighters Union Local 1252.
“Through a significant amount of work and negotiation, a compromise has been reached between the parties,” Lamarand said.
Last month an agreement was reached that ended a year’s worth of often contentious negotiations. Under the terms of the new contract, pensions and benefits will follow a 401K retirement formula requiring employee contributions. Previous contracts under Act 345 called for city-funded retirement benefits.
The eight restored positions increase by two the number of firefighters working per shift, and Fire Chief Bob Tompos said the department may soon reopen one of two “shuttered” stations that closed last year.
Still pending for Taylor is $8.1 million from a Federal Emergency Management Administration grant the department was awarded last month. Lamarand hesitated to accept the funding, and said that the city could not afford the obligations it presented when the two-year grant period expired. The additional pensions and benefits were not factored into a state-mandated five-year debt reduction plan the city filed earlier this year.
The city council twice voted to insist that Lamarand accept the funds; Lamarand’s veto of the council resolution was challenged in Wayne County Circuit Court; on July 6 Judge Prentiss Edwards ordered the city to accept the grant.
That ruling was appealed by Lamarand, who said he was investigating if a portion of the grant could be accepted to restore additional positions but not jeopardize the city budget.
“My commitment is to find and utilize real solutions,” Lamarand said. “Sustainable solutions that allow the city to provide quality service at a cost we can afford.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])