Michigan Fire Department Looking To Increase Staffing

The Rochester Hills Fire Department is looking to beef up its staff in the coming year, with four new positions requested in the proposed 2005 city budget.

The hires would allow the department to staff a second ambulance during the day and focus on fire prevention programs.

"We're trying to become more proactive, and a lot less reactive," said Fire Chief Greg Walterhouse.

Two emergency medical technicians and a fire inspector are proposed to be added to the staff. The fourth new hire is the conversion of a part-time dispatcher position into a full-time one.

The department currently has 18 full-time firefighter/paramedics, 87 paid on-call firefighters and three fire inspectors, Walterhouse said.

He said that running ambulances during the daytime hours can be difficult for his department because most EMTs in Rochester Hills hold other jobs during the day. One of the department's goals is to reduce response times.

The department had 4,136 fire and emergency runs in 2003.

"Our paid on-call staffing is a little weak in the daytime," Walterhouse said. "This will bolster that."

Base salary for a fire inspector in the city is $51,441. The base salary for an EMT is $32,000 and for a dispatcher, $35,977.

Even with the proposed additions to the fire department and another to the building department, the budget calls for the elimination of three positions, bringing the number of full-time city employees to 251.

Eight vacant positions were cut in the proposal.

"Basically there's not one thing that we've cut," said Julie Jenuwine, the director of finances for Rochester Hills. "There are various things here and there."

To trim expenses, Jenuwine said, the proposed budget calls for less money for travel and more in-house training and development for city employees.

The fiscal budget year in Rochester Hills runs from January to December. Work on the 2005 proposed budget began early this year.

Rochester Hills Mayor Pat Somerville presented the proposal to the City Council on Aug. 4. Since then, the council has held study sessions and a public hearing on the budget and is expected to approve it at its Oct. 6 meeting.

Rochester Hills' overall proposed budget for 2005 is $111 million, with a $23.6-million general fund. The budget calls for maintaining the city's 2004 tax rate of 9.3681 mills.

While other departments scaled back by not filling vacant positions, Rochester Hills City Council President John Dalton said the fire department's request for new hires seemed to be justified.

"We're a big city," Dalton said. "We don't have the growth we had 10 years ago, but we are playing catch-up. We started doing our own ambulances a few years ago and that's been a strain on manpower, but it's also been a revenue source."

Other budget highlights:

The fleet division's proposed budget includes purchasing 10 pickup trucks, a crew truck, a loader, an excavator, two passenger vehicles, a mower and a stump grinder for the Forestry Department. The cost of those vehicles is proposed at $760,470.

A new staff position in the Building Department, as well as higher costs for benefits, increases the proposed budget for that department by $146,108, or 9.3 percent, to about $1.7 million.

The Forestry Department is asking for $6,000 to remove trees destroyed by the emerald ash borer. The total proposed budget for the department in 2005 is $462,950, compared with $446,727 this year.

No money is allotted for local road projects. Residents will vote on a 10-year, 3.2-mill road millage in November to pay for reconstruction and maintenance of local roads. The millage would cost $480 a year for the owner of a home with a taxable value of $150,000. Taxable value is half or less than a house's market value.

The proposed budget was prepared as if the millage would not pass, Jenuwine said. If it does pass, the budget will be amended before going into effect in January.

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