Residents of Ferndale and Hazel Park may soon get to vote on whether to merge fire departments in both cities to stretch precious resources.
Both cities would need to vote to approve a new fire authority and a new millage rate to fund the new entity, the Oakland Press reports.
Departments in both cities lack adequate funding to maintain services at current levels, the newspaper said. Last year, the Hazel Park Fire Department was forced to make a substantial reduction in spending to balance the city budget.
Ferndale is better positioned financially, but officials say the fire department will still have to make some cuts.
“We have to finally come to some sort of decision on how we are going to manage it,” Mayor Dave Coulter said. “We have looked at mergers and fire authorities and grant funding. This is the year we have to make some hard decisions about what kind of fire department we want and how we are going to pay for it.”
Merging fire services would eliminate some operational redundancies. A Ferndale-Hazel Park fire authority would have a dedicated millage that would take some of the pressure off both cities’ operational budgets.
Last year, Ferndale city officials cut $1 million from the budget so they could keep four firefighters on the payroll after a federal grant paying for those positions expired.
Those positions cost about $410,000 in salaries, an expense the city can’t afford, Coulter said. But without them, fire services may have to be cut.
Coulter said 2014 is the year city officials will have to come to grips with how fire operations will be funded and at what level services will be offered. “The challenge is funding,” he said. “Communities like Ferndale offer full-service fire departments and that is not sustainable with our current revenues.”
Ferndale Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan said much of the groundwork has been done to put the merger issue before voters. He expects to make a presentation to the Ferndale City Council in the near future.
“I think creating a single fire authority is the best way for us to maintain and – I think – probably improve services,” Smith said.