Portion of fund balance for Grayling Fire Department will be used to retain firefighters
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Grayling city officials approved changes in the budget for the fire department to keep two full-time firefighters on staff through the early summer months.
The Grayling City Council, at its regular monthly meeting held on Monday, Feb. 11, agreed to pull money from a fund balance to continue the current fire department staffing levels.
On Nov. 30, four full-time firefighters were laid off due to the end of contract to provide fire protection services to Camp Grayling.
Grayling City/Manager Police Chief Doug Baum noted that municipalities do not have to pay for unemployment insurance unless somebody is drawing the benefits. In this case, all four employees have found other jobs.
Since the city did not have to pay for the benefits, they agreed to use some of the fund balance in the fire department budget to pay for the two firefighters the department has retained.
The fire department is jointly run through an inter-local agreement between the City of Grayling and Grayling Charter Township. The city council approved changes to the budget last week, and the township board was expected to give their approval at a meeting this week. City officials handle the human resources and paying the bills for the fire department.
Firefighter/Inspector Mike Arwood will continue from this month through July 30 at a cost of around $28,100.
“We’ve been trying to keep that position, because to us and the township, it’s an extremely important position to continue because they do the fire and safety inspections and plan reviews on new construction,” Baum said.
Fire Chief Russell H. Strohpaul Jr. will also remain on full-time status through June 30, and had $5,000 restored to his salary, which was cut when the layoffs occurred.
“All that does is make him whole as to what his salary was at,” Baum said.
In January, the city council and township board held a workshop to discuss and take public input on future fire department operations.
A committee of representatives from both municipalities has been formed to work on the budget for the fire department, which will begin on July 1. They are looking at how much it would cost to retain the fire chief and firefighter/inspector on a full-time status, and how much more both parties will have to commit for funding.
The committee will also review two proposals to provide fire protection to the Michigan National Guard, which would cover times when training is taking place on military grounds.
“When those are released, we will review them and see if it’s an option for us to seriously look at or not,” Baum said.
Fire departments across the nation are having issues recruiting and retaining paid-on-call firefighters.
“In this day and age, you can go to any town across the United States that has volunteer firefighters, and they all struggle during the day because employers today just aren’t as willing to let employees go on fire calls during the day while they’re working,” Baum said.
The fire department has responded to a steady amount of calls since the layoffs have occurred. Baum expected more calls due to the hazardous winter weather conditions.
“Part of that is we’re well into winter, and people have figured out how to drive or to just slow down,” Baum said. “Also, when we have more snow, when people do go off the road, they just get stuck in the snow. They’re not necessarily rolling, or sliding and going into the trees.”
Baum encouraged local residents to learn more about services the fire department provides and to possibly get involved.
“If people are willing and able, we could always use more firefighters,” he said.