Minneapolis city officials announced a proposal Tuesday to save more than 30 firefighter jobs, but they say there still will be layoffs in the fire department.
The plan crafted by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and council president Barbara Johnson would transfer $1.75 million from the city's contingency fund to the fire and police departments. Most of the money will go to the fire department, which stands to be hit the hardest by state aid cuts.
Rybak said the aid cuts could have meant the loss of dozens of firefighter positions as well as the loss of a fire station and a fire truck. However, he says the department will still have to lay off 10 firefighters.
Rybak says he hopes to hire back the firefighters if more senior first responders retire. He said the temporary fix is necessary because the state's financial house is in disorder.
"And I'm frankly, incensed that Minneapolis and cities across this state are in this position because the state can't get its fiscal act together," said Rybak. "But my reality is to deal with what the state gives us. And that hand right now involves more cuts, that will be happening at the same time that I'm about to deliver a budget that once again will be balanced. I wish the state would do that too."
International Association of Firefighters Local 82 President Mark Lakosky is critical of the plan. He said the fire department has had to sustain too many personnel cuts over the years. Lakosky said the cuts have made the department less effective.
"We're measured by how fast we get to you and do we have the appropriate staff on the scene to mitigate whatever -- an emergency medical response or fire response," Lakosky said. "Reducing staff ... will severely limit our ability to get there in an expedient manner."
Lakosky said he's also worried that the job cuts will make firefighters less safe.
However, Fire Chief Alex Jackson said firefighters don't get hurt because there aren't enough firefighters present at the scene of a fire. They get hurt because they do a dangerous job. But Jackson said he plans to meet with his command staff and members of the firefighters union to develop an operational plan to account for the safety challenges posed by the loss of 10 firefighters.
Jackson said the firefighters will still be paid for 30 days while they look for jobs within the city's job bank. But he said if the firefighters haven't found something within that period, then they will receive a layoff notice.
"I called all of them personally to notify them, because I felt it was the proper thing to do as chief - that they should hear from me," said Jackson.
Jackson said the firefighters are the most recently hired. He said they've been with the department for at least three to four years. Jackson said if circumstances change and he's able to start rehiring, the 10 laid off firefighters are first in line for jobs.
Under the proposal, the police department would receive $650,000. City officials say the money will help the department reduce its staff without police officer layoffs.
The proposal will need to be approved by the city council.