Mpls. seeks alternative to firefighter layoffsby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — City leaders are debating the merits of a plan to lay off 10 firefighters this year as a means to deal with cuts in state aid.
Minneapolis needs to find a way to avoid layoffs in the fire department, said Council member Gary Schiff. He raised his objections to the plan during a meeting of the council's committee of the whole on Thursday morning. He cited figures from the fire department estimating it would cost more than half a million dollars in overtime pay to make up for the loss of the 10 firefighters through the end of the year.
However, Fire Chief Alex Jackson said before incurring overtime costs, he would compensate for reduced personnel by idling fire trucks.
Jackson estimates that due to losses from injury and military leave, he won't have the minimum 93 firefighters available to staff all the trucks for 78 of the 109 days from mid-September to the end of the year.
And that's troubling, Schiff said.
Schiff and other council members will present alternative plans at Friday's full council meeting.
Also slated for Friday, the council will vote on a measure to mitigate the effects of the city's numerous budget cuts. The council approved the list of cuts last December when it passed the 2011 budget. The cuts were based on the assumption the city would receive less state aid than promised for this year. Under that plan, the fire department would have to eliminate 44 positions.
After the Legislature last month passed a budget bill delivering $23 million less in aid than it had earlier promised, Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak and council president Barbara Johnson wrote a mitigation plan to save more than 30 firefighter jobs. However, 13 positions would be eliminated, including laying off 10 firefighters.
The council budget committee approved the plan earlier this week. Committee chair Betsy Hodges doesn't want to see firefighters get fired, but said the council must act quickly to present a long-term plan if it wishes to avoid the layoffs.
"If we're not going to do one-time gimmicks between now and the end of the year to have people on and then lay them off in January, then we need a long-term solution," Hodges said.
In order to keep the 10 firefighters employed next year, Hodges said the council members will need to find $777,000 of ongoing funds. Mayor Rybak is scheduled to announce details of his proposed 2012 budget in September.