By Charles Sercombe
Hamtramck police officers have a new employment contract, but not everyone in the community is pleased.
While officers will enjoy a bump up in pay (6 percent), there is a clause in the contract that is causing controversy.
The contract says that the city administration has a right to exercise an option to have officers cross train as firefighters. The city is agreeing to pay for the training and give those officers who finish the training an extra $1,000 annually.
The contract is good through 2019.
What has some people upset is that the cross-training may lead to doing away with an independent fire department and creating a hybrid that is commonly known as a public safety department.
In this scenario police officers and firefighters cross-train for each other’s roles.
Some communities have tried this approach, and it has been met with varying degrees of success. In the case of Hamtramck’s neighbor, Highland Park, it proved to be a failure and the city went back to two independent departments.
But there are financial circumstances facing Hamtramck.
GM recently announced that it will cease production and its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, known commonly as the Poletown Plant, which could possibly lead to a complete shutdown.
That would mean a loss of $850,000 to $1 million annually for Hamtramck.
On top of that, it is feared that Wayne County will walk away from its county jail located in Hamtramck once its new downtown facility is completed in a few years.
That would be a loss of about another $1 million annually.
“We have no other options at this point,” said City Attorney James Allen in regard to starting cross-training.
But even before last week’s unexpected announcement was made about the Poletown Plant, City Manager Kathy Angerer told The Review previously that the costs of funding a police and fire department is “unsustainable.”
That’s because a federal grant that had been subsidizing the salaries of firefighters — about $2.3 million per year – for the past several years may not be available, or will be scaled back.
The city’s fire department’s budget is $3.3 million a year.
Mayor Karen Majewski underscored that having police officers cross-train is just an “option” – not a done deal on establishing a public safety department.
It has also been pointed out that Hamtramck firefighters participated in over 800 runs in 2017 in a special mutual aid agreement with Detroit and Highland Park.
To the surprise of some, less than 100 of those runs actually involved a call in Hamtramck. In other words, the majority of work being performed by Hamtramck firefighters is in Detroit and Highland Park.
That has begged the question of how balanced that agreement is and what the eventual cost will be from the wear and tear of Hamtramck’s trucks and equipment.
There are other options for providing fire service, but nothing that city officials have talked about publicly. One would be to ask voters to join a fire authority with East Pointe and Hazel Park, who already have a joint agreement. That would also require voters in those two communities to allow Hamtramck to join – which would be challenging politically, to put it mildly.
Other options include scaling back the department’s fulltime force and filling in the other positions with part-timers.
Or, the city could just contract with Detroit to take over the service.
For many residents, the only option that is acceptable is for an independent Hamtramck Fire Department.
Just how the city would continue to fund it, though, has yet to be answered.
Rachel Renee Srodek spoke out against cross-training in a Facebook post.
“I am so disturbed and disgusted with Hamtramck’s administrators they want public safety in our city, they want to get rid of our fire fighters,” Srodek said.
She added: “Is it just to save a dollar in the pockets of the administration? Because it’s obviously not saving me, as a homeowner and business owner anything. I will lose my insurance. It’s hard to even get an insurance company to insure living in this city now and if we go to public safety, I will bet you that no insurance company will cover us.”
At last Tuesday’s city council meeting, the police contract was approved, with only Councilmember Andrea Karpinski, the sister of Srodek, opposing.
Karpinski said that she couldn’t support the contract because the concept of cross-training should have been brought up months ago so the council could fully discuss it.
Dec. 7, 2018