FIRE DEPARTMENT Howland workers to get less time

Budget cuts have forced the department to reduce the hours its employees work.
HOWLAND -- To trim expenses and meet budget restrictions for 2005, the Howland Fire Department will use its 25 part-time employees much less than in previous years.
"They're still on the rolls," explained Township Administrator Darlene St. George. "They're just not being scheduled for now."
The department will try to cut down on the need for using the part-time workers by adjusting other schedules, she said.
Fire Chief George Brown said the part-time program was instituted to help provide enough people to cover the 2,600 calls to which the department responds each year. The department is budgeted for 25 career personnel and has 23 on the staff right now.
Township trustees are expected Wednesday to put replacement levies for the police and fire departments on the May ballot. The 3.5 levy for the fire department and the 2.5 levy for the police department are the first such ballot issues in Howland since 1988 and 1987, respectively.
St. George said that in years past, as police and fire service have become more expensive, the general fund has been able to subsidize them. But the township itself will have less with which to budget this year, she said, due in part to the bankruptcy of WCI and reorganization of Delphi and AK Steel. Last year the township had an $8 million budget; this year it is $6 million.
Even without the reduction in revenue, the fire department would be struggling, Brown said. The revenue raised from any new development is based on that 17-year-old levy so the department is trying to meet 2005 responsibilities with 1988 funds.
Also, Brown said, the number of calls has more than doubled in those 17 years.
Reducing expenses
St. George said that Brown, Police Chief Paul Monroe and other department heads have labored to keep expenses down as revenue has shrunk.
Monroe and Brown cited co-operation from the unions as a major factor in being able to control the cost of safety services under present financial restraints.
"We've seen this coming," said Firefighters representative Brian McCall, "but some of the cuts at the state level put the hurt on us faster than we thought."
If the levies are put on the ballot and pass in May, they won't generate any funds until January 2006. This means that the police and fire departments must continue to tighten belts for 2005.
"We'll concentrate on just what we need for emergency service period," Monroe said. "We'll cut back on training, but we'll continue to give quality service."
Brown said that when the Howland Fire Department faces too many calls at once, it will call in volunteers and off-duty personnel and, if necessary, call for help from other area departments.
But some of those other communities are in the same boat, he said.

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