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Published: Monday, 4/6/2009

Monroe, fire union in dispute over cuts


MONROE - Monroe City Council is set to give a first reading tonight to an austere budget that eliminates nine firefighter positions, closes one fire station, and ends city-run ambulance service.

Mayor Mark Worrell said the city manager's proposal to turn over ambulance service to Monroe Community Ambulance is needed to avoid a $1.1 million deficit.

But the Monroe Firefighters Association union said the move will lengthen response times and is being done without exploring funding options from the federal government.

Cpl. Derek Whittaker, president of the firefighters' union, said the proposal breaks an eight-month-old contract setting minimum staffing at eight firefighters per shift by reducing staffing to six per shift.

The department already has been cut from 41 last year to 31.

Council is expected to vote April 20. The budget must be adopted by April 30.

"They have a rainy-day fund. They don't need to take that much money from the fire department," Mr. Whittaker said. He said city paramedics, operating from three stations, can respond more rapidly than Monroe Community Ambulance.

The proposed city budget would eliminate one of the fire stations and two ambulances.

Mayor Worrell said the city is bound to minimum staffing if it provides ambulance transport. He said if the union would drop the minimum manning requirement, fewer firefighters would have to be laid off.

"We have no choice but to make cuts," Mr. Worrell said, citing a loss in tax revenue because of the closing of the Automotive Components Holding plant, formerly Ford Motor Co., in November. He said Monroe Community Ambulance handles the rest of Monroe County and does a good job.

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