Jul 14, 2003
On July 10, the City of Detroit, pleading poverty, closed three fire stations and said it would rotate daily closings in as many as five stations.
Fire protection in Detroit is already stretched so thin that fire engines sometimes arrive a half hour or more after being called. This action can only mean that more houses burn to the ground before the firefighters get there.
The city says it has to make up a 192- million-dollar budget deficit. They say costs of firefighters' overtime, sick leaves, and vacations are too high.
To say that costs of sick leaves and vacations are too high is about like saying that having fires is too costly. If firefighters didn't fight fires, they would not have injuries, they would not have overtime, they would not need vacations! The city is complaining about normal things that happen to normal people doing their normal work. What did it expect?
The city also guarantees it will need overtime since it currently is training only 50 new firefighters instead of the 80 new firefighters it needs.
No money for overtime? Not quite true. The police department, for example, pays overtime to provide security for events like concerts and ball games. This is a subsidy given away to the promoters and owners of stadiums, auditoriums and theaters who don't provide their own.
The mayor's own security detail ran up a $260,000 overtime bill last year – more than triple the bill from the year before. In fact these payments were part of a scandal that forced the mayor's two high-school buddies off that job. But the mayor wants to cut fire protection instead!
The city also argues that its costs were unexpected because an arbitration ruling forced them to go back to four-man crews on fire engines. In other words they were cutting corners on safety and fire-fighting ability by sending out understaffed trucks and counting that as "normal" in the budget!
But these costs are like pennies compared to the tax breaks and services given to the largest and richest individuals and corporations in town. The city paid millions to help GM sell its old headquarters, and paid again to build new roads and infrastructure serving GM's new downtown RenCen headquarters. The city subsidized and gave tax breaks to the Fords for their new football stadium; to Mike Ilitch for his new baseball park; and to Compuware for its new headquarters building.
A small fraction of these giveaways would more than take care of the budget shortfall and keep firefighters on the job where they belong.
If there is a budget crisis, it was made and continues to be made by the city's taking from ordinary citizens in order to feed the already overstuffed wealthy.