Union concessions clear way for grant acceptance
By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR — It may be a rare win-win for the city, its fire department and the mayor: Last-minute concessions by union officials cleared the way for Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand to accept a federal grant and bring back the remaining 24 of 32 firefighters laid off last year.
As a bonus, Lamarand likely avoided jail time for a contempt of court charge.
On Thursday, Taylor Fire Fighters Union Local 1252 approved a memorandum of understanding that requires recalled employees to first cash out all accrued and unused vacation and sick time before the two-year grant period expires. Doing so, Lamarand said, compensates the city for an estimated $1.2 million that would not have been covered by the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s $8.2 million staffing grant.
Lamarand said he notified FEMA Friday morning that the city would accept the grant. Last month, eight of the 32 firefighters returned to duty following approval of a contract between the union and city; the remaining 24 will begin heading back to work next month.
With that agreement, Lamarand said he was legally able to accept the funds without adding to Taylor’s financial woes.
“We are much more comfortable now with the main part of our financial concern,” Lamarand said.
Acceptance of the grant divided an already-contentious Taylor City Council.
Two judges have ordered Lamarand to accept the two-year FEMA grant. After being asked to intevene by members of the Taylor City Council, last month Judge Prentis Edwards ordered Lamarand to comply with a council resolution and accept the grant.
Last week, Lamarand’s appeal was rejected and on Monday Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Macdonald ordered that the grant be accepted within 24 hours. Lamarand instead advised FEMA that he would not be accepting the funds, and a contempt of court hearing was scheduled for Friday.
Lamarand and his attorney appeared before Macdonald Friday and explained that the grant was accepted.
The Taylor Fire Department applied for the FEMA funds as a method for restaffing the department. More than 30 firefighters and dozens of other city staff were laid off last year due to budget cuts; the fire department was forced to shutter two stations and operate out of one house.
Emergency medical service transport was contracted to a private service, which Lamarand said changed the needs of the department since when the grant was approved.
Earlier this year state treasury officials reviewed Taylor’s budget, and ordered a five-year deficit reduction plan to balance a shortfall of $5 million or risk being taken over by emergency management.
Lamarand opposed accepting the grant, and said that the budget could not support hidden costs — to include overtime, unemployment for any laid off after two years, pensions and benefits—during and after the grant period.
Applicants are required to prove that they can pay the non-Federal funded portions of the project; in a letter to FEMA on Tuesday — prior to adjustments made by the union and city officials — Lamarand said he could not meet that requirement.
“It’s only a temporary savings,” Lamarand said of the still-delicate city budget. “We only got this for two years and there’s no guarantee of future grants.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])