Members of the Ann Arbor community have demonstrated concern over proposed funding cuts to the Ann Arbor Fire Department, fearing the decrease in funding — and the slower response time of fire services expected to come along with them — may affect the safety of citizens.
If the bill passes, it will lead to five layoffs each in both the fire and police departments, according to Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje at a May 16 Ann Arbor City Council meeting. However, Hieftje said he hopes the cuts will be minimal, adding that City Council is trying to reduce the layoffs in the fire department to two and the layoffs in the police department to four.
“Last year, we were able to pull some rabbits out of a hat and avoid some very deep cuts,” Hieftje said. “Hopefully this year we can do that.”
During the meeting, Hieftje referred to each of Ann Arbor’s fund categories as metaphorical “buckets” and that in most cases appropriating or transferring funds from one bucket to another as a means of assistance is illegal since they are each allocated a set amount.
Jim Kosteva, the University’s director of community relations, said in an interview it isn’t guaranteed the cuts will have a negative impact on the campus.
“I think it’s premature to speculate as to how these reductions in staff may impact residents and student residents and the University,” Kosteva said.
Kosteva said it is also uncertain if the number of layoffs projected with the proposed budget will impact response time for the fire department, signifying the cuts would not necessarily lead to safety threats.
“The University shares the same concerns that residents (have) as a whole … we also have the confidence that our City Council will implement a budget that ensures a meaningful level of personnel and facilities to remain in place,” said Kosteva.
Fred Viegel, president of the Huron Valley Central Labor Council, also spoke at the May 16 meeting, and said the cuts would “endanger the lives and property of Ann Arbor citizens.”
Viegel proposed borrowing funds from other accounts the city has access to in order to ensure the safety and security of citizens.
“The council should look at cutting other departments first before public safety,” Viegel said.
Chelsea Del Rio, vice president of the University’s Graduate Employees Organization, spoke at the meeting on behalf of University students, and said the audience should take into consideration that students are a “vital part of the Ann Arbor community.”
Del Rio said GEO is strongly against any cuts to the fire department because the cuts could make the campus less safe for students.
These potential cuts would come almost a year after the April 3, 2010 fire that killed Eastern Michigan University student Renden LeMasters. The response time for a full alarm assignment to this fire — nine minutes and four seconds — was deemed to be less than the expected standard of eight minutes, according to AnnArbor.com.