Mich. fire department struggles with budget despite a $1 million grant

Following staffing shortages last year, the city racked up $300K in overtime pay

By Christina Hall
Detroit Free Press

WAYNE, Mich. — The financially struggling city of Wayne is getting nearly $1 million in a federal grant to add six firefighters to its ranks for two years, but the money isn’t going to get the city out of dire financial trouble.

“It’s a help in the short term,” Mayor Susan Rowe said. “It gives us that fire protection we need and save the overtime.”

But when asked if it would get the city out of its deeper financial problems, Rowe said, “No, no it won’t.”

After voters in Wayne elected not to join a unique taxing authority composed of Hazel Park and Eastpointe to raise money for public safety, Rowe sent a letter to the state asking for an emergency financial review.

She said the state has received the letter and has time to respond. She had not heard from the state as of Thursday. 

Even with the recent announcement of a $994,848 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to recruit and retain firefighters, that helps the city’s budget, but doesn’t fill the bigger economic hole.

Rowe said the city applied for the federal grant in late winter or early spring. The funding will allow the city to make new hires and beef up its ranks from 12 to 18 firefighters for two years. She said additional personnel will save the city overtime in the fire department and allow it to look for money to keep some of the firefighters on later.

She said the city’s original budget had more than $300,000 in firefighter overtime. A release from the city states that the fire department is using overtime to meet daily minimum staffing.

The city operates a joint fire department with Westland. Rowe said she thinks  a similar federal grant to keep firefighters on in Westland may be expiring this year and that some of those firefighters may be able to be hired on in Wayne, allowing them to hit the ground running.

The federal grant news is a highlight on an otherwise bleak financial outlook for the city of 17,500 residents. 

If the authority ballot question had been approved by a majority of voters in all three cities – it passed in Hazel Park but also failed in Eastpointe – Wayne could have levied 14 mills for 18 years, generating $4.9 million for public safety in its first year.

If the millage failed, officials previously said Wayne’s general fund will be depleted in December 2017, and the city will enter a state of insolvency.

Copyright 2016 the Detroit Free Press

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