The state Senate is expected to take up a bill today which would restore more than $850,000 in state funding for fire protection to the city of Ann Arbor. The funds would make up about 8 percent of the Fire Department’s annual budget.

Paul Wong
A fire engine sits awaiting the next call to duty yesterday at the Ann Arbor Fire Department located on Fifth Avenue between Ann and Huron streets.

City Administrator Roger Fraser, who until this morning was serving as interim Fire Department chief, said the city would have to eliminate some operations should the funds not be restored. The department currently operates six stations, some of which maintain several sets of firefighters ready to respond to an emergency at any given time.

“Each time you take out a section, you take the risk of us being slower to respond to any particular emergency,” Fraser said.

The fire protection grants, which go to many cities with large state institutions, were vetoed in May by Gov. John Engler. The House overwhelmingly voted to restore the funds last month, but it is unclear whether Engler would veto the funds again if the Senate votes affirmatively.

Recipients of the grants usually are the sites of prisons or state-supported colleges, which are exempt from local taxes that support local fire departments.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Joanne Emmons, the No. 2 Republican leader from Big Rapids, said she expects the Senate to vote to restore the funds, “probably” with a comfortable margin.

“Those fire protections grants are spread so far across so many places in Michigan that we’ve got a lot of support,” said Emmons, whose district encompasses’ both Ferris State University in Big Rapids and Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant.

Engler had vetoed the fire protection grants earlier this year, saying the budgetary impact of the potential passage of three statewide ballot proposals – one of which will not be on the ballot – required him to free up dollars in the budget.

His veto of general revenue sharing payments to counties and municipalities was overridden by the Legislature last month in the first override since 1977 and only the second in more than 50 years.

The proposal now before the Senate is part of another bill which itself could also be partially vetoed.

The governor “doesn’t know what he’s going to do if they’re passed,” said Engler spokesman Matt Resch when asked if the governor would again veto the fire protection grants.

For now, Emmons said she wants to wait and see if any of the proposals pass before entertaining talk of another override.

“In November we’ll know what happened to the ballot (proposals),” Emmons said.

But House Democratic spokesman Dennis Denno said the Legislature should override the Republican governor if he vetoes the fire protection grants again.

“I don’t think you hold communities hostage for something they didn’t do,” he said.

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