19 Ann Arbor firefighters, 9 police officers facing layoffs
Just three weeks after agreeing to voluntary concessions that included a 4 percent reduction in compensation, Ann Arbor firefighters could be taking another hit.
Members of the firefighters union have been informed the city is looking at laying off 19 firefighters starting in July and eliminating another vacant position. That's six more positions than were previously slated to be cut.
Another 17 positions in the police department also face elimination in an effort to trim $1.98 million from what was projected to be a $26.5 million budget for the department in the next fiscal year. That includes laying off nine sworn police officers, seven positions within the community standards division and one management assistant.
With 13 firefighters' jobs on the chopping block last month, the union agreed to voluntary pay cuts to avoid layoffs through July. But they had no guarantee of what would happen after that grace period ended.
"I'm at a loss to understand it," said Craig Ferris, a lieutenant with the fire department. "I just don't know how we can make the efforts that we made and the sacrifice that we made, and then to hear this. It doesn't make sense. That's like doing a guy a favor and having him come back and hit you with a baseball bat."
Ann Arbor City Council members were provided a series of budget impact sheets tonight in preparation for a working session scheduled for Monday night. The reports show city staff's proposed plans for trimming 7.5 percent from the budgets of every service area in the city, with public safety being no exception.
Police Chief Barnett Jones, the city's safety services administrator, said the City Council ultimately will decide how to handle the defiict the city is facing.
"We're beginning a process where we have to meet a target number," he said, noting personnel costs represent about 80 percent of the budgets within public safety. "To meet those target numbers, it will require us to get into personnel because there's nothing else. It's a very lean operation."
Jones said the police department currently has 123 officers, while the fire department has 94 firefighters counting the chief and two management assistants.
The budget sheets show cuts already implemented this year, cuts already scheduled to take effect in July, and what would happen if the recommendations for the additional 7.5 percent reductions took effect.
The fire department has a $13.3 million projected budget for the next fiscal year after having already made $677,678 in cuts this year.
The layoff of 13 firefighters and elimination of one vacant position still are scheduled to take effect in July, which will save nearly $1.4 million. Additionally, another six firefighters could be laid off - for a total elimination of 20 firefighter positions in July. The additional cuts would save another $997,445.
"This will result in the closing of fire substations, resulting in increased response times due to crews responding from the remaining fire districts," the budget sheet prepared by city staff reads. "Service reduction may impact regional response agreement talks and may void response agreement draft with Ypsilanti."
The staff analysis also states the cuts would take daily staffing levels below national standards to effectively and safely fight an average sized home fire and may raise insurance rates.
Matt Schroeder, president of the Local 693 firefighters union, said firefighters are taking the news hard.
"We were hopeful coming out of the contract and looked to work to problem-solve these issues, but I don't think they're being fairly represented by the city right now," he said, adding that firefighters feel like city officials haven't been forthcoming with budget information. Firefighters also question why city officials are spending tens of millions of dollars on capital projects such as a new police-courts building.
"It just seems like we're trying to make up for their mistakes," Schroeder said.
Ferris said he doesn't understand how the number of firefighters facing layoff has grown to 19 seemingly overnight.
"It just seems unbelievable that this is what they're going to ask for now," he said. "We're making an effort, we're doing so much more with so fewer people than we ever have before, and now we're doing it for less pay, and we did it to save jobs and keep the city safe. And instead of coming back and saying 'thanks for your effort,' (the city administrator) comes back saying we're going to lay off 19 people."
Firefighters say they're disheartened they're being asked to dig further into their pockets when City Administrator Roger Fraser and other top city administrators still haven't agreed to any pay cuts themselves. However, some members of the Ann Arbor City Council did agree to a 3 percent pay cut for themselves last month.
The firefighters union has reached out to the University of Michigan's Board of Regents to discuss the plight of the fire department. Firefighters are hopeful the university, which doesn't pay taxes to the city but receives city services, will agree to help cover its share of costs for fire protection in the city.
Schroeder said the fire department already struggles to meet national standards, which state that the first company (a truck with three firefighters) should arrive on the scene within four minutes and a full alarm assignment (15 to 17 people, depending on the need for an aerial apparatus) should arrive within eight minutes.
"We're minimally meeting those standards right now, but if we're going to lose companies and those numbers of apparatus, we would be below it," Schroeder said. "That's why we fought so hard to maintain our staffing through July, at least. We already are thin."
Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.