Allen Parkâ€” The city’s finance director said today that Allen Park must lay off 25 to 30 employees by June to avoid a $600,000 deficit for the current fiscal year.
Tim McCurley said in an interview that the city sent layoff notices to everyone in the fire department to comply with a clause in the firefighters’ union contract requiring a 30-day notice. He said some or all of the firefighters could lose their jobs, and that the police department faces layoffs too.
According to McCurley, city officials are discussing several options on how to provide fire protection but have not settled on a plan. He referred further questions in that area to City Administrator Eric C. Waidelich, who did not return phone calls this afternoon.
“It’s not easy to lay people off,” McCurley said. “No one wants to do that. It’s never easy, but we are trying to work through it.”
The finance director said the layoffs would only keep the city’s books balanced for this year and have nothing to do with any funding cuts in Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget for fiscal 2012.
According to McCurley, the city faces a fiscal crunch because revenue in several areas has fallen short of projections. Collections from traffic tickets are $819,000 below what was budgeted, and ambulance billing collections are $200,000 under budget, he said.
McCurley said the city also had to refund $80,000 under order of the Michigan Tax Tribunal.
In other areas, spending has exceeded projections, including $130,000 in parks and recreation. McCurley said the city failed to budget for $150,000 for unused sick and vacation time for employees who have retired.
Overtime in the fire department is $150,000 over budget, even after firefighters agreed to limit overtime pay as part of concessions negotiated last year, McCurley said.
City Council members approved laying off the 25-person fire department Tuesday night.
Fire Chief Doug LaFond said he would be laid off as well.
“That is obviously not what we want,” LaFond told The Detroit News this morning. “We want to continue to serve the residents.”
Allen Park, like many other communities across the state, is dealing with decreasing property values and falling tax collections. Moreover, the city gave $1.2 million to a movie studio, Unity Studios, that later bolted for Detroit.
But LaFond questioned the need to eliminate his entire force to make up for shrinking revenue.
“The bottom line is there aren’t any other cities in the state of Michigan that are eliminating fire departments because of it,” LaFond said.
The fire chief said he did not believe the entire police department was being threatened with layoff, but said the police force is about double the size of his department and could see significant cuts.
Police Chief Dean Tamsen said this afternoon he hadn’t received word of layoffs in his department, which has 45 officers. However, he said he “can’t picture the city laying off firefighters and not police officers. That is wishful thinking.”
The chief said he has met with his command staff to map out ways to provide police service if there are cuts.
Tamsen said he has watched as communities across Metro Detroit have made painful cuts to keep up with declining tax bases, shrinking state revenue sharing allotments and the auto industry downsizing.
“I have been doing this job for almost 30 years,” Tamsen said. “One of the reasons I came in was job security. That is now gone. I would have never dreamed it would get to this.”
Tamsen said many in the community blame the cuts on the failure of the studio deal, but he believes the city’s money issues go beyond the money lent to the studio.
“We’ve never faced a situation like this,” the police chief said. “It is horrible.”
LaFond said the firefighters’ union last fall gave $800,000 in concessions that included the overtime limits and eliminating pay raises for promotions.
“I guess that wasn’t enough,” he said.
The firefighters union filed a grievance against the city, alleging that a position hasn’t been filled as required under the contract, which includes the concessions negotiated last year and expires in March. Union president Jeff O’Riley said his local is willing to consider more concessions, but not before the city fills the position.
“You don’t do this to families,” he said. “They show no class or respect for the people who have given up so much for the city.”
LaFond said his department’s ambulance service generates $600,000 annually. He said collections are down, but times are tough and his department shouldn’t lose firefighters because of it.
“They have singled us out,” he said. “Other departments were able to make cuts through attrition and buyouts.”
News of the cuts spread quickly through the community.