Supervisor recommends layoffs of police, fire personnel

But federal grant to re-hire firefighters gets another look

By: Heidi Roman | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published February 28, 2011


 Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon recommended that three police officers and 12 firefighters be laid off in the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget to help the two departments’ struggling bottom lines.

The board is expected to vote on the budget and possible cuts on March 21, and will make another decision that night on a federal grant that could re-hire seven firefighters already laid off last year.

Cannon made the recommendation at a Feb. 22 public hearing on the budget.

Spending will outpace revenues by $1.4 million next year in the police fund and by $2 million in the fire fund. If nothing changes, the departments will run out of money within a few years. Cannon said layoffs would prevent “payless paydays” in the departments.

“This does not solve the problem, but it does start to put a little dent into what we would have to do,” Cannon said.

Several residents at the hearing spoke out about the proposal, some saying police and firefighters should be the last to go, and others arguing that every area of government needs to trim down.

“Police and fire protection is a necessity,” said resident Joe Odien. “I’m a senior citizen. I’m 69 years old. If something goes wrong for me or my wife or my family, and we have to go to the hospital, I want them there.”

“There are none better than the ones you have in Clinton Township,” resident Barbie Head agreed. “I’m just so safe in feeling that I am very guarded and protected … To think that we’re going to have one less officer on the street, it can be lethal.”

Resident Simon Haddad agreed about the importance of public safety, but thinks there are other options available to both cut costs and increase revenues in the departments.

“It’s time to make some changes, some real changes, about the way we do business,” Haddad said. “I expect value for dollars spent … I’m not getting a tax break when people are laid off. I still pay the same.”

The Police Department has lost 21 full-time officers in the past few years through vacancies that have not been filled.

The reduction in property tax revenues in that fund alone will be $2 million in 2011-2012, said Finance Director Donna Lauretti. The deficit in the fund would grow to $4.1 million by 2014-2015 if nothing changes.

“We’d begin to eat away at fund balance to the tune of $13.6 million over the next four years,” Lauretti said. Insolvency would strike in late 2014.

“Major changes need to take place,” she said.

Same holds true in the Fire Department, which would see an even larger deficit. Nine positions were eliminated from the department last year through seven layoffs, one retirement and one disability. Nineteen employees have been cut out of the budget in the past few years.

Cannon’s proposal would add 12 more employees to that loss, but seven of them could possibly be re-hired if the township receives a $2 million federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency grant provides funding for the salary and benefits of firefighters cut as budgetary solutions. It would pay to re-hire the firefighters laid off last year, but the township board was hesitant to pursue the grant because it includes a caveat that no firefighters be laid off for the length of the grant, and Cannon had said the township couldn’t commit to that.

The department applied for the grant and received a questionnaire to fill out to continue the application process, but was instructed not to continue seeking it.

Apparently some new information has surfaced that is making the board reconsider.

“Recently there was a phone conversation among a number of people on our staff and someone in Washington (D.C.) who has the ability to make decisions,” Cannon said. “Things came out of that discussion that lead me to believe we would be able to apply for the SAFER grant without strings attached.”

Cannon said he couldn’t discuss the details of the conversations because it “could possibly jeopardize the application process.”

Cannon said he is ready to vote in favor of pursuing the SAFER grant, but scheduled a discussion and decision on it for March 21 — right after the discussion and approval of the 2011-2012 budget, which could include layoffs.
Cannon hopes to finalize a contact with the firefighters union in the meantime. They have been without a contract for two years.