MUSKEGON, Mich. — Muskegon city firefighters are responding to comments made by the city manager about a proposed $600,000 budget cut to their department.
City manager Frank Peterson spoke with FOX 17 Wednesday night about the proposed cuts. He said the cuts need to be made because the city has to get a handle over its costs, and that rising pension and healthcare costs are the Achilles’ Heel of the department and are unsustainable.
“The additional costs are stemming from the fire department, and they are mostly 100 percent related to rising pension costs, rising healthcare, rising healthcare pension costs,” Peterson said.
Peterson went on to say they’re going to look at alternative scheduling models that will give them the appropriate amount of staffing on days when they predict they’ll need it.
The firefighters union responded to the proposed cuts on Facebook Thursday. They say they’re “extremely concerned” that the cuts could put lives at risk in the event of an emergency:
“The Muskegon Fire Fighters were disappointed to see the Muskegon City Manager chose to not speak with the Muskegon Firefighters but instead turned to the news media. We do not see how this behavior is helpful and we believe it puts our City in a negative light. We strongly argue against comments made by the City Manager alleging the Muskegon Professional Fire Fighters Union is fear mongering. The Muskegon Professional Fire Fighters Union – Local 370 made a commitment to commissioners we spoke with at Tuesday’s City Commission Meeting to not argue the issue through news media. Despite repeated requests, we did not appear on camera for any news source and did not provide any comment for MLive. By contrast, The City of Muskegon City Manager has decided to go on air with a local news source to once again degrade the City fire fighters.
Unfortunately, we feel we must now publicly respond. First and foremost, our fire fighters are advocates for the safety of this community. We are extremely concerned over the proposed $918,000 budget cut. We question this drastic measure in spite of the city income tax, a tax which was passed years ago on a pledge of proper police and fire funding. We feel the additional proposed cuts on top of the years of declining staff could certainly impact the community’s safety and put lives at risk. The administration stated they are looking for a different “model”. We are a different “model”. Federal law allows fire fighters to work 54 hours per week in 24 hour shifts. To make the point, police and fire fighters are paid roughly the same wage. However, fire fighters work 54 hours per week while police officers work 40. This is a huge savings for cities. A fact the city administration is clearly not aware of when they suggest scheduled staffing when they predict a fire will occur.
The Muskegon Professional Fire Fighters remain interested in working this issue out with the City, just as we did in 2012. Back then, we worked with the City to implement a part-time fire fighter program to supplement full-time staff. Although the program was abandoned in 2014, it is an example of working together to make long-lasting solutions to keep our community safe. The Muskegon Professional Fire Fighters would like to thank the community for the outpouring of support. We recognize that the City of Muskegon is a beautiful and growing city and we look forward to its bright future.”
Before any cuts are made, the budget needs to be submitted to the state for approval July 1. The city says no decision will be made without trying to negotiate with the unions first.
Another public meeting about the budget is scheduled for June 27.