By Charles Sercombe
If mayoral candidate Mohammed Hassan had his way, the city would combine its police and fire departments.
He said that by doing that, the city could save $3 million.
That revelation came in a Detroit Free Press interview that was published on Sunday (Nov. 5).
However, prior to that publication, Hassan had adamantly taken the opposite stand when pressed on the issue, and said he is in favor of keeping both departments.
Hassan is challenging Mayor Karen Majewski in this Tuesday’s election, on Nov. 7. He has been on city council for eight years, and opted to take on the mayor instead of seeking re-election on council.
Majewski has been opposed to eliminating the fire department.
The issue of forming one public safety department has been floated over the past couple of decades as one way to save money. Most of the city’s $16 million budget is spent on police and fire services.
The idea of eliminating the fire department has been political suicide for elected officials. Residents and firefighters say that because of the density of housing here, it is critical for the city to have a separate fire department.
But the idea of a public safety department reared up a few years ago when the state contemplated taking over control of the city via an emergency manager. The state treasurer at the time, Andy Dillon, reportedly told city officials that the city has to “get out of the fire business.”
That was in 2013. By the time an emergency manager was appointed by the governor, Dillon was gone and the idea of eliminating the fire department also vanished.
The Review has attempted to reach out to Hassan in recent weeks only to get a recording on his phone that said his message box was filled to capacity.
For several years some fellow councilmembers suspected Hassan secretly wanted to gut the fire department, but when asked publicly he denied it.
Even if Hassan is elected mayor, there is little he could do about changing up the police and fire departments. The city is still under the supervision of a state appointed financial advisory board.
Any major change in contracts or any financial decisions have to be approved by the board. On top of that, the city is run by a city manager. The role of elected officials is limited, according to the city charter.
But the issue of funding the fire department will become a top priority in the next year when a federal grant that pays for the salaries of firefighters runs out.
The city will lose about $1 million that went toward salaries. Former City Manager Katrina Powell had said last year she was working with state officials on how the city will pick up the cost again.
Powell’s employment contract ran out at the end of June. It is not immediately known how the city will be able to shoulder the cost of salaries. On top of that, the city is already heading into another financial crisis over funding its pension obligations.
Published November 5, 2017