The last thing someone wants to worry about when their home catches fire or a burglar breaks in at night is whether the city has enough firefighters and police officers to help. But depending on the outcome of today’s City Council annual budget meeting, that fear may be warranted. With these vital services already suffering from massive cuts — the Ann Arbor police force has shrunk by 35 percent since 2001, according to AnnArbor.com — the city simply can’t afford more. City Council must stave off further downsizing of its police and fire departments and plug its budget gaps by other means.

For months, City Council has been discussing budget plans for the next fiscal year and how to best cope with the revenue shortfalls. According to AnnArbor.com, if a budget agreement can’t be reached by today, the city will follow a budget recommendation plan that was initially proposed by City Administrator Roger Fraser. His recommendations, which include cutting 20 positions from both the fire department and police department, are set to take effect in July of this year.

The City Council members discussing the budget today should take into consideration the community’s constant need for these services. Fire Chief Dominick Lanza told AnnArbor.com that if cuts are made, one of the four fire department stations might close. This would mean that — depending on the area — Ann Arbor citizens could experience a greater wait time for firefighters to respond to an emergency call, especially if there happens to be more than one fire occurring at one time — a possibility that isn’t so far-fetched following the recent rash of suspicious fires around campus. Considering these fires and rumors of arson, further cuts come at the expense of local citizens’ safety.

But cuts to the police department are no less dangerous for Ann Arbor and its citizens. If 20 police officers are let go, some crimes will have to take a back seat to those with a higher priority or immediate need for assistance. As a result, the response to certain crimes could be delayed or ignored altogether, and that is simply an unacceptable solution to even the most difficult budget challenges. Cuts to the Police Department would be a disservice to the community. While proponents of the cuts may argue that Ann Arbor has a relatively low crime rate, councilmembers must remember that the city did not achieve such a rate by shrinking its police force.

The recent economic downturn brought a significant and undeniable loss in tax revenue to governments at the federal, state and city level. But above all else, a government’s fundamental responsibility is the protection of its citizens. Fire and police services come at the center of this duty, and the Council must remain cognizant of this fact — even if it means looking at ways to trim city administrative spending or increase revenue.

There is no dispute that the city’s budget has deficits that must be addressed. But councilmembers must remember that if a government is to have any purpose at all, it must guarantee the security of those it represents.

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