By LINDA LOBECK
IRON MOUNTAIN - The city of Iron Mountain was originally looking to put a deputy city manager position in place within the administrative structure for the purpose of overseeing the police and fire departments.
But now officials are looking in another direction that has created some concern from the public as well as council members.
The city council could have advertised for the position of deputy city manager since it was already in place under the city charter. But discussions between the members of the consolidated services committee resulted in the consideration of an ordinance for a position of director of police and fire services.
That issue was put before the city council at Monday's meeting and brought about council members and public comments on both sides - for and against such a position being developed. But despite the disagreements, the council agreed to introduce the ordinance to schedule a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, May 19.
The bottom line behind considering both positions was to look at a way to reduce the costs of providing both these services - police and fire coverage.
To create a position of director of police and fire services, this would be filled through Michigan Public Act 78 of 1935, said City Manager Jordan Stanchina. This act requires that all full-time police and fire personnel follow the promotion procedures. Coming from within the current departments allows for the person to perform police and fire services as well as administrative duties.
"The committee believes that this position will be the most efficient and effective use of personnel," Stanchina said.
If the ordinance would be approved by the majority of the council after the public hearing, the ordinance takes effect in 30 days. During that time, Stanchina said, a vacancy according to Public Act 78 would be declared and the Civil Service Commission would test those eligible to be promoted. And the candidate receiving the top score is then named to fill the position after being appointed by the city manager.
In past years, the council has studied other approaches to reduce the cost of providing these services including discussions to partner with neighboring governmental entities - specifically the city of Kingsford and the Dickinson County Sheriff Department.
Stanchina said that the timing is right to combine the positions into one since the two chiefs - both police and fire - will be retiring this year.
"By combining the positions, I have estimated an annual savings of $90,000 for the general fund," Stanchina said.
Tina Pirlot, of 603 W. Fleshiem St. in Iron Mountain, asked for more information from the council concerning the director of police and fire services position. She felt that the council, by taking this action, is going for a public safety director and eventually going for an all-volunteer fire department.
"I believe the taxpayers deserve a few minutes to discuss and decide whether they want a police and fire safety director. With a hearing on the 19th, it's coming up right now and depending on the council vote could start in 30 days. What I'm concerned about is the fact the residents have not had a chance to voice their opinions on this. This needs a heck of a lot of discussion first," Pirlot said.
She added that she would want to see the numbers showing that there would be a savings of $90,000.
"I personally feel residents want a full-time fire department," she said. "With this position, the only people who'd be eligible to fill it and be promoted would be two police department officers."
Stanchina said that with Public Act 78, the person has to be promoted from within. This position would have duties within it that includes both administrative and service. He added that he doesn't know what the future holds since the city is facing a lot of unknowns with personal property tax going away.
"But there has never been an official line saying that our fire department would be all-volunteer," he said.
Pirlot added that she would like to know the real logic behind hiring someone to be in charge of two departments. "They (police and fire services) are two different animals," she said.
Kevin Pirlot, of 633 W. Fleshiem St., a current firefighter for the city of Iron Mountain, also expressed his opposition to creating a director of police and fire services in Iron Mountain.
"You would be cutting off the head of the fire department - eliminating the leadership of the fire department," he said. "The only people eligible for the position would be one of the lieutenants from the police department. The city of Marquette did this and then had to abandon it and go back to separate departments. Due to the way the law is, the position will always be filled from the police department. Right now, the fire chief is in charge during a major fire and with this change, what is the long-term effect to residents of the city?"
He added that in the past 10 years, 50 percent of the fire department has been replaced - since 2006 these positions have been converted from full to part-time positions. But even with the changes, they have never left for a fire with less than four people on a truck.
"We need to continue working together," he said. "The fire department has been cut enough. We need to work to come up with a solution."
Stanchina said that the director of police and fire position will still have police power and with training in firefighting, will count as manpower.
Councilman Bob Moraska said that it wasn't clear that if the council goes through Public Act 78 that they have to hire only from within the two departments.
"Now from what I have heard, this entails promoting a police officer," Moraska said. "I am troubled with this - this is too critical and important to the safety of our citizens. And I don't want to see future complications from within the two departments. Saving money is good, but not at the cost of safety for our citizens."
Mayor Dale Alessandrini said that although there would be one person to run both departments each department will still have a captain involved to oversee the everyday duties on both sides.
"Someone will lose a job - and it's the fire department, " Moraska said.
Councilman Bill Revord said that going with this would allow the city to save money as well as the effectiveness of one director.
"How many people told you to look at consolidation options? We need to maximize services and minimize costs," Revord said.
Alessandrini agreed noting that they have looked at many different things throughout the years, from consolidation, to public safety and other ways to combine services.
"I thought this would be a good idea. I'm open to listening for other opinions. Give me an idea - anything except with sticking with the same route we are on right now, Alessandrini said.
Stanchina said that an example of where this position has worked well is in Marshall, lower Michigan, which is about the same size of a city as Iron Mountain.
Moraska said that he would rather table any action on the ordinance to allow for a real discussion and get public input.
"There's not a lot of money in the budget. We have to trim where we can so we can make some things that need to get done happen. I don't have a problem with having both departments under one position," Revord said.
Councilman Rick Zolner expressed his concern with creating a new administrative position.
"You've changed the equation here with a new position from what we talked about before with a deputy city manager," he said.
Stanchina said that the qualifications for a director of police and fire services would be determined once the ordinance is passed by the council and they work with the Civil Service Commission.
The proposed ordinance will also be posted on the city website to allow the public to read it before the public hearing.
Linda Lobeck's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.