Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik and Rochester City Manager Blaine Wing are investigating potential funding options to present to city council members on how to staff and fund the city's fire department in the future.
The two administrators on Monday, July 23, told city council members they were still in the process of investigating specifics on how much various staffing options would cost, and how those could be funded. Council in June agreed they wouldn't seek a dedicated tax millage this year for additional staff at the fire department, however, that option may be a possibility in 2019.
"I think it should be put on the ballot and be decided by a vote of the people," councilwoman Ann Peterson said about future staffing at the fire department. "And, I think you should make them all city employees."
Cieslik and Wing were directed by council in June to explore staffing options previously presented to city council which stemmed from a fire department study conducted by an ad-hoc fire committee formed to assess the current and future needs of fire services in the city.
The committee earlier said the department's current structure of utilizing only paid, on-call firefighters wouldn't be a sustainable model for the department as response times are already lagging for emergency calls in some areas of the city, and will continue to lag in the future. In order to remedy the problem, the committee suggested adding additional full-time and part-time firefighters in order to staff the city's sole fire station 24 hours each day.
Cieslik said the option would likely cost the city an additional $600,000 each year.
The specific cost to staff the department as recommended will depend on several factors, including whether the city hires staff directly as city employees, uses a third-party contractor to staff the department, works with neighboring departments to provide staff or determines another course of action is appropriate.
Wing said at the July 23 meeting that he and Cieslik were scheduled later in the week to meet with officials in Rochester Hills about potential partnerships and would bring the results of those talks back to council in August. Cieslik also said the city is progressing through a fire safety grant process, which could help to provide start-up funding for additional staff for the first year or more of a restructured department.
Wing also said at the July meeting that he had prepared a fact sheet about the department staffing options and that it would soon be posted to the city's webpage and shared with residents in the next monthly newsletter.
In June, councilman Ben Giovanelli and Rochester Mayor Rob Ray both said they wouldn't support a dedicated millage for additional fire services this November, preferring to support the additional service through general fund contributions rather than an additional tax. Any effort to place a millage proposal on the November ballot would need to be approved by council and presented to the state by July 31.
Councilwoman Kim Russell said in June that she would like to explore the possibility of whether employing a public safety director to oversee both police and fire services would be beneficial. Councilwoman Peterson at the July meeting expanded on that idea, suggesting that any future millage proposal be a combined public safety millage.
"If we move toward a millage, we should make it a public safety millage and put police and fire on it," Peterson said.