Taylor wins federal grant to save 15 firefighter jobs
Washington — The city of Taylor won a $4.3 million federal grant Thursday allowing it to pay for 15 firefighter positions for the next two years after the city had threatened to lay off more than a third of the department.
The grant came after members of the Michigan congressional delegation — including Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn and Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township — raised the importance of the issue with the White House and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The grant comes from the DHS Staffing for Adequate Fire & Safety Emergency Response Program.
“This funding will ensure that the Taylor Fire Department is able to retain the staff it needs to protect our families and serve the community,” Dingell said.
In March, Taylor laid off 10 firefighters and threatened another 15 layoffs after an $8.1 million federal grant extension expired.
Until Feb. 23, the department had a staff of 49, including three administrators. The city had been paying for 26 firefighters with the two-year federal grant. Without it, an extra $2.5 million to $3 million is needed to support the department’s budget.
“Our firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect our families, homes, and communities,” said Stabenow, praising the grant. Peters agreed: “First responders are on the front lines protecting our communities when emergencies strike.”
Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars said in March the city had to look at its options.
“We’re looking at long-term sustainability,” the mayor told The Detroit News. “We’re looking at how do we shrink the department to a number that’s safe for the city, the department and sustainable.”
On Feb. 23, the Taylor City Council in an emergency meeting rejected a proposal to allow 10 early retirements, a move approved by the firefighters union. Officials also postponed the layoffs of 15 other firefighters in hopes of securing a new federal grant to keep them on duty.
The department accounts for $2.4 million of the city’s total 2014-15 fiscal year budget of $32 million. Taylor’s fiscal year ends June 30.
Taylor’s grant has been a source of friction in the community. The city applied for a $6.6 million grant in 2012 after 32 firefighters were laid off due to budget cuts.
It later amended its application to ask for an additional $1.5 million.
At the time, Taylor was operating under a state-approved five-year deficit elimination plan.
FEMA awarded the city the $8.1 million grant, but then-Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand refused to accept it, saying the funding would only delay more cuts and could cost the city more if firefighters incurred overtime.
Lamarand’s refusal ignited a legal battle with the City Council, which he ultimately lost when a judge ordered him to accept the grant.
Voters ousted Lamarand in November 2013, replacing him with Sollars, a former councilman.
In February, city officials sent layoff notices to the 26 firefighters paid under the grant. A six-month extension of the grant expired Feb. 23.
Under the labor agreement between the city and the firefighters union, the department’s minimum staffing is 21.
Sollars said the city will dip into its general fund to pay for the 15 firefighters until another grant is secured. The city can pay for the staffing only for a limited time, he said.
Asking voters to approve a tax hike to maintain firefighter staffing is a last resort, the mayor said.
Detroit News Staff Writer Charles E. Ramirez contributed.