Fire staff remains pending agreement

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK — The Fire Department avoided having to lay off staff last month as union and city negotiators agreed to an extension through this week in hopes of producing a contract agreeable to both sides.

It seemed a foregone conclusion that at least three and up to five firefighters would be laid off in September, but Mayor Patricia Diaz Krause said she was encouraged when told that first one, then a second extension had been given.

“It’s very encouraging,” Krause said. “Talks have progressed to the point where both sides were comfortable holding off, and that’s a good thing.”

Layoffs had been expected when the city council voted in August to reduce the department by five if a new contract could not be settled. Two of the positions seemed accounted for through retirement and resignation, but three more positions had been slated for elimination.

Before the Sept. 20 deadline passed without a contract, the deadline was extended first to Sept. 30 before last week’s decision to allow another week for negotiations.

“We’re waiting on another update,” Krause said Thursday. “The sense I’m getting is that they’re very close, and both sides are working hard to come to an agreement.”

Negotiations between city officials and union representatives had been launched in hopes of restructuring a contract as the city wrestles with a pending budget deficit of about $3 million.

Fire Chief Liam Carroll had proposed that long-term solutions could be found through a department merger or partnership with neighboring communities, as was put into place with Dearborn and Melvindale.

Other methods for shoring up fire funds included the city submitting another application for a Federal Emergency Management Administration grant, similar to funds obtained in Taylor that helped re-populate the fire stations. Lincoln Park had been approved for a 2012 grant, yet did not accept the funds due to concerns about stipulations that came with the grant. The federal government’s shutdown last week put any grant applications on indefinite hold, and in the case of Taylor the city had to absorb the cost for grant-funded firefighters until the U.S. shutdown ends.

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)