By Rosemary K. Otzman
After a lengthy discussion at Monday’s regular Belleville City Council meeting, a special work/study session was set for 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9, to discuss, in detail, the training rate of pay for the fire department.
In the meantime, the council voted unanimously to raise the training rate from the present $5 per hour to the Michigan minimum wage of $7.40, since there is a training session in between the two meetings.
Fire Chief Brian Loranger had asked for the $5 wage to be doubled to $10 an hour several meetings ago, but the council had failed to act.
Councilwoman Kim Tindall made the motion to set the fire training wages to the State of Michigan minimum wage, which set off a long discussion.
Mayor Kerreen Conley she didn’t think the minimum wage was necessarily the right way to go. She asked for a study session where anyone could ask anything they want to ask before the rates were readjusted. And, more information was needed from the fire department.
Mayor Conley said she wanted to emphasize that the council did not think all the fire fighters were worth was minimum wage.
Council members agreed the $5 was too low, but they wanted to make sure there was money enough in the budget to handle any pay increase.
When the special meeting was announced, Chief Loranger replied, “You’ll be setting the meeting with someone else because I’m retiring.”
“This is a nail in the coffin. We do a lot of work for the community and it goes unrecognized,” Loranger said.
Later he agreed to come to the meeting with additional information and put off his “retirement.”
“I want to see this through,” he told the Independent after Monday’s meeting.
Loranger told the council that he has estimated 936 man hours of training which is the absolute maximum for 13 people. He knows from experience that he can’t get all 13 to all the training because of their job and family responsibilities.
The current fire department budget is $52,000, Loranger said, noting a few years ago it was $70,000.
With training at the $10 rate, including for Hazmat/USAR, Loranger estimated total expenses of $52,970 for the year.
“If you practice, you’re ready when you need it,” Loranger explained. “We need to continue keeping it in their heads.”
Mayor Conley said the city doesn’t tell the fire department not to go out on runs because their budget has run out of money.
George Chedraue questioned raising the rates for one week and Mike Renaud agreed, “I think it’s silly to change payroll one week and then going in again the next week.”
Loranger said fire fighters are on a monthly pay schedule and they won’t get the December check until January.
“We all agree they need a raise,” said Mayor Conley.
“It’s good faith going forward,” said City Manager Diane Kollmeyer.
Police Chief Gene Taylor said it is hard to foresee when police or fire crews will need to be used. Loranger said on the night of the recent blackout, his fire fighters had 12 runs.
In other business at Monday’s meeting, the council:
• Approved the contract renewal of WCA Assessing at $21,370 per year for 3 years with option of another 2 years at the same price. There is an increase of $10 for those appeals that have to go to the full Tax Tribunal, from $185 to $195 per hour;
• Approved a Memorandum of Understanding and a Participation Resolution for the Joint Management Committee of the Downriver Sewage Disposal System for another year. Belleville is one of 13 communities represented in the group that is trying to get a handle on overhead costs. “We’re not any closer to an agreement than we were in 2012,” said DPS Director Keith Boc. He said the County has no respect for the JMC and the situation actually is getting worse;
• Announced the city’s annual Holiday Home Decorating contest, telling residents to have their lights on from 6 to 10 p.m. on Dec. 11 and 12 to be judged;
• Approved the city council meeting schedule for 2014, which is the first and third Mondays at 7:30 p.m., except for three days when holidays push the meetings to Tuesdays, instead;
• Approved accounts payable of $111,199.23 and departmental purchases over $500: to Blue Ribbon Contracting, $8,848.40 for water valve replacement; to SEMCOG, $737 for membership dues; and to SMART, $1,539.28 for vehicle repairs;
• Heard Renaud ask about the “shed” at the Bayou, which he said, “Looks terrible.” Boc said the overhang structure has a permit, but the sides have been put up and were not permitted. Boc said he will have to go have a look at it. Mayor Pro Tem Jack Loria said it looks like a “winter storage shed.” Boc said he believes it’s a shelter for smokers; and
• Heard Mayor Conley announce the Christmas tree next to the bridge will be decorated this week by a city crew using a bucket, so they can put the decorations higher than last year.
By Rosemary K. Otzman