As Dearborn officials filed into the Mayor’s Conference Room at City Hall Tuesday night, what has been a nightly session of discussing cuts during the last several nights shifted when it came to talk of public safety.
The Dearborn Police Department and the Dearborn Fire Department, both of which operate under charter-mandated provisions that ensure minimum manning of 205 and 121, respectively, will be shielded from layoffs and other budget cuts, leaving city officials with little to work with as they attempt to reduce the general fund budget.
According to data provided by Jim O’Connor, the city’s financial director, expenditures for police services will increase from $34,477,518 in 2011 to $35,660,063 in 2012–a proposed increase of $1,182,545. The fire department’s expenditures will increase by a proposed $1,043,677, from $17,662,571 in 2011 to $18,706,248 in 2012.
The minimum manning provisions were enacted several years ago when voters approved a series of ballot measures designed to protect the public and prevent officials from creating dangerously low levels of safety personnel, leaving little flexibility now that times are tougher.
Police Restructuring and Hiring
Currently, the city is considering a number of actions to combat falling state-shared revenue and stagnant property tax collections. Three public pools and one library could be closed, along with numerous staffing cuts.
For the police department’s part, new command structure put into place in March is saving a significant amount of money, said Police Chief Ron Haddad.
“We replaced a commander with two captains, and the cost of both of the captains is less than one commander,” he said.
Other changes include eliminating the deputy chief’s position, a lieutenant’s position as well as three sergeants, and adding the captains. In total, the department’s command structure has been reduced from 49 to 43 positions, saving about $1 million, Haddad said.
“We’re very responsible about how we administer the budget,” he said. “(The changes) are saving money for the upcoming budget and the current budget.”
Despite the fact that the city has a minimum provision of 205 officers, there are 184 on the beat currently. Haddad said there will be hiring in July. But Mayor Jack O’Reilly said that even though the department is operating with fewer than the 205 mandated, the city must budget for the full 205.
“That can be a problem because that money is there to be used for other expenditures,” he said. “If it’s not used within the year, it can go back into the general fund.”
Another issue that came up was the fact that the city is paying about $5,800 to send preservice officers–those who have not yet attended the police academy–to obtain the necessary certifications.
Councilman David Bazzy asked why the city would consider paying for people to attend school at this time.
“It seems with all of the displacement of people who have the certification, why would we hire people who are not certified?”
Haddad said the department maintains a list of applicants who have passed a variety of tests as dictated by Michigan Civil Service Commission. However, qualifying applicants are considered based on their time on list–and prior certification is not a requirement.
However, Haddad said many on the list are certified.
“I’m not saying that every person hired will have to go to the academy,” he said. “They get points for things like college and military service.”
The city is in talks with its nonsupervisory police unions concerning applying for grant dollars to help cover the cost of officers, said city spokeswoman Mary Laundroche.
Fire Not Looking at On-Call Staff
At the fire department, residents who attended the meeting asked if it was feasible for the city to begin hiring part-time or on-call firefighters, either as a supplement to staff or as an all-volunteer operation. Currently, the firefighters contract requires that all firefighters be full-time employees.
“From a fiscal standpoint, (volunteers) would be great, but it would not be the same level of service as we have now, and it’s not something we're considering," O'Reilly said.
Fire Chief Richard Miller said the department does not have on-call or part-time firefighters.