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Talks end between Muskegon, union for firefighters

Jon Mills / WZZM-TV • Sep 1, 2017 at 2:00 PM

MUSKEGON — After five lengthy meetings over the last two months the city of Muskegon and union representatives for its firefighters have ended talks.

The two sides weren't making progress in an effort to find $689,000 in reductions. And the department is on track to go over budget this fiscal year.

The Muskegon Fire Department has 33 full-time employees. At the close of 2017 the number may be smaller. The city is considering imposing staffing reductions.

"There are real fiscal concerns," said David Taylor, Muskegon. "I have no doubt about that."

Taylor recently sent Muskegon Commissioners a letter explaining why he opposes any cuts to staffing levels at the fire department. He believes staffing reductions would threaten the safety of city residents.

"If things are going well then you don't need them, if things don't go well then you need them right now," said Taylor.

His son is a Muskegon firefighter. And so Taylor is also concerned about the careers of staff the city may layoff.

"The younger ones probably not a problem, the older ones probably a career killer," Taylor said.

Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson shares that concern. But says ultimately the city of Muskegon needs structural changes inside the fire department.

"The goal here is putting the right system in place," said Peterson.

The city and union last meet weeks ago.

"We like to think we remain open to talking and working our way through the budget issue," said Peterson.

The fire departments is on track to go $1 million over budget this fiscal year. It's budget for personnel expenses is $3 million.

"At the end of the day changes might have to be implemented to meet that," said Peterson.

A senior union representative for the department said Thursday the department has a budget this year that's the same dollar amount as it received in 2002.

The union representative also said the fire department is operating with the same size staff as it did in 1993.

City Manager Peterson said skyrocketing overtime, retiree health care and pension costs are a big part of the problem making the fire department's budget so difficult to manage.

Muskegon City Commissioners next meet on Sept. 12, and the issue could be discussed at that meeting.

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