Firefighters on the front line of city finances

By Charles Sercombe

Now that state officials have rejected the city’s budget deficit elimination plan and a request for a $3 million loan, what’s the next step?

Good question.

According to Acting City Manager Kyle Tertzag it all comes down to the firefighters’ union.

Yes, the firefighters.

Tertzag said that while state Treasurer Andy Dillon demanded contract concessions from all city employees, he repeatedly said the city has to “get out of the fire business.”

The focus will be on the firefighters’ union, Tertzag said, because police officers and city hall employees have already given concessions. Police officers recently agreed to pay 15 percent of their health insurance.

Firefighters pay nothing and are not even required to pay a deductible. On average, firefighters earn $81,000 a year, Tertzag said, and work nine days out of the month.

Out of the 3,000 runs per year, Fire Chief Paul Wilk said 80 percent are for ambulance service.

Matt Wyszczelski, the president of the Hamtramck firefighters’ union, told The Review the union is willing to work with the city. The union was expected to meet with Tertzag on Friday, the day after The Review went to press.

Depending on how that meeting goes, the city council may hold a special meeting on Friday evening or on Saturday.

As for the city’s immediate financial health, Tertzag said he has been holding back payment to the city’s pension fund. The city currently owes the fund $1.2 million.

Tertzag said if he were to make that payment, there would not be enough money to cover employee payroll.

City Councilmember Robert Zwolak has said the city should stop making payments to vendors.

If contract concessions are not reached, Tertzag said it will only be a matter of weeks before the city runs out of money.

“The only thing not on the table is the status quo,” he said.

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