| 'No more layoffs'
Firefighters seek minimum staffing limits
By Anne Sullivan
, The News-Herald
TAYLOR — Firefighters from across the state donned a different uniform Friday.
They were wearing T-shirts that read "Bring Back Our Firefighters" and carrying signs that read "Support your Taylor Firefighters" and "No more layoffs."
They joined Taylor firefighters picketing in front of City Hall.
George Quiroz, president of Taylor Firefighters Local 1252, said staffing at the Fire Department is down 13 from 2000, and one firefighter recently was laid off.
Most of the 13 have left for other departments with better pay and haven't been replaced, Quiroz said.
Fire Chief Vincent Fedel wasn't working Friday, but said he had been told the demonstration was scheduled.
"I was informed they would have representatives from locals across southeast Michigan," Fedel said.
"The guys are doing an exemplary job. The job is being done efficiently ... and professionally. I know it must be frustrating to them not to have (the staffing levels they) had, but our residents are receiving professional life-support care."
The demonstration Friday was to draw attention to the situation and to kick off a door-to-door plan firefighters have to change the city charter to require minimum staffing in the Fire Department, Quiroz said.
"We will explain our pensions, staffing and the critical need for fire inspections and education," he said. "We have not taught fourth-grade (fire safety) in two years. We're not educating the public like we have in the past because of staffing."
The Fire Department averages between 7,800 and 8,200 runs a year and 80 percent are medical, he said.
There are 61 firefighters, including Fedel and Deputy Fire Chief Ed Sierota, There were 70 in 2000, Fedel said.
In 2000, the budget allowed for 72, but the department never reached that level, Fedel said. In December 2000, four firefighters were fired.
Quiroz said Taylor is comparable to the city of Pontiac, and it has minimum staffing for the Fire Department in its city charter. He wants the same in his city.
Taylor is 24 square miles. Its population was 63,788 as of March, according to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments' Web site. That's a drop of 2,080 since 2000, when the official census was 65,868.
Pontiac is 20 square miles and has a population of 68,147, according to the SEMCOG Web site.
Taylor Mayor Cameron Priebe said he's willing to support minimum staffing in the Fire Department as long as it includes the money to pay for it, such as a special millage.
"If it means hiring more people (in the Fire Department) and laying off cops and parks people, I'm not for it," Priebe said. "In Pontiac, they have minimum staffing for firefighters and laid off (other employees)."
Taylor's budget for the 2007-08 fiscal year is $62 million. In 1999-2000, the budget was $48.2 million. That's an increase of about 29 percent over eight years.
According to the city, the Fire Department's budget for the 2007-08 fiscal year is estimated at $6.86 million. It was just under $3.8 million in 1999-2000. That is an increase of nearly 81 percent over eight years.
The budget included wages in 2007-08 of $4.44 million compared to $2.8 million in 1999-2000, up about 58 percent.
Budgeted overtime for 2007-08 is $236,500, compared with $283,800 in 1999-2000, down about 20 percent.
The city's pension contribution for firefighters in 2007-08 is budgeted at just under $1.62 million, up 1,639 percent from the contribution of $93,000 in 1999-2000.
The city's pension contributions are determined by an actuary and are based on wages and anticipated payout, said Patti Duha, the city's finance director.
Pension contributions in 1999-2000 were low, Duha said, and she doesn't know why. City pension contributions were $228,800 in 1998-99, $272,000 in 2000-01 and $197,000 in 2001-02, according to city records.
Pontiac officials asked residents in January to eliminate the minimum staffing in their Fire Department. Voters rejected the idea.
Pontiac's budget for 2007-08 is $54.44 million. To eliminate a $6.5 million budget deficit, the city laid off 31 employees, including 25 police officers. The Fire Department remained staffed as it had been, according to a published report.
"That's not fair," Priebe said, adding that he doesn't want to see that in Taylor.
"As far as I'm concerned, I've been fair to the firefighters."
Priebe took office in 2005, and the Fire Department had a staff of 60.
Settlement of a lawsuit involving two of the four firefighters fired in 2000 resulted in two being reinstated in June 2006, bringing the department up to 62, Fedel said.
"There is one less now, and there are budget issues associated with the layoff," Priebe said.
The picket line might be a bargaining ploy by the firefighters as the city and Fire Department are about to go into arbitration, Priebe said.