Union negotiations are on the horizon for all City of Dearborn employees–including police and fire. But in recent budget talks about the Dearborn Fire Department, discussion centered more on how they could bring in more revenue.
For fiscal year 2011, the department’s expenditures were $17.381 million. Of that, around 90 percent was comprised of pay and benefits costs: $9.527 million for personnel, and $6.556 million for benefits.
Revenues for the department were $2.035 million for the same period, meaning that the city subsidy is more than $15 million each year–a number that is projected to go up through 2015 due to engine replacement costs.
The bottom line, said Finance Director Jim O’Connor, is that “public safety is consuming a much greater percentage of the general fund than their revenue.”
Until union negotiations reopen, cutting jobs and benefits–the only real way the department could save the city money–isn’t up for discussion.
But a look at the breakdown of the fire department’s calls since 1980 shows another possibility for recouping costs.
In 1980, the department went on a total of 5,908 calls. In 2010, that number was up to 10,029. Thirty years ago, 65 percent of the calls were medical, and 35 percent were fire. In 2010, that ratio was 75 percent medical and 25 percent fire.
“We’re at 75 percent ambulance,” said Council President Tom Tafelski at a budget meeting last week. “If we drop a ladder truck and get a new ambulance–a new ambulance is $200,000 versus ladder, which is $1 million.”
Former Fire Chief and current state Fire Marshal Richard Miller, who spoke on behalf of the department while the search continues for his replacement, said that the cost could be even less for a new ambulance with developing technology for cheaper and smaller vehicles.
Currently, ambulatory services make up nearly all of the department’s incoming funds. And recent technological advances have placed Dearborn's department at the forefront of providing those services, including the use of .
Several city leaders said they felt bolstering ambulance services might be a good investment toward increasing revenue.
“Our population is getting older,” commented Councilman Brian O’Donnell. “I think a fifth ambulance would be worth it.”
Still, the city’s greatest effort is to reduce personnel costs by 10 percent–a plan slated to affect all City of Dearborn employees this year. How that will be implemented for public safety departments remains to be negotiated.
Councilman Dave Bazzy said his greatest concern going forward is just ensuring that residents never see a drop in service quality.
“When you go around the city, we certainly do not want to do anything that diminishes our response time,” he said. “People in our city … vote for millage increases for services, (and) when they think services, they think fire response time.”