At first glance it’s disappointing that Hamtramck’s emergency manager didn’t go further when dealing with the firefighters’ new contract.
It was thought that the Fire Department would be restructured in some fashion. Instead, firefighters agreed to wage concessions but the department is still staffed by full-time firefighters.
Emergency Manager Cathy Square said it wasn’t her role to re-invent the Fire Department nor is there enough time in her one-year contract to do that job. We can understand that, but we have serious doubts local officials will have the political will to restructure the department when the firefighters’ contract expires in two years.
Does the department need to be overhauled?
What city officials have to brace for is the eventual end of a federal grant, called the SAFER grant, that helps subsidize salaries in the department. There is a good chance the grant will be extended for another year or two.
The big question is what happens after that? There is certainly not enough money in the city’s budget to go back to fully financing the department. It was thought that one way to cut down on expenses would be to turn the fire and police departments into a public safety department in which there would be a small core of full-time firefighters and when a fire breaks out, police officers on duty would double as firefighters.
If it weren’t that option, it would be some other hybrid or even turning to a regional fire service. No matter what, Hamtramck won’t be able to afford 30 or more full-time firefighters, and there is no other city as small as Hamtramck that does this.
We’re assuming whoever gets hired as city manager after Square leaves will be tasked with this assignment. And we’re going to assume that the state board that will be overseeing Hamtramck’s finances will have a hand in this decision.
In the meantime, city officials would be wise to also look into this matter in order to make sure all options are considered and that Hamtramck gets the very best one.