Duluth Police, Fire Unions Against Mayor Larson’s Proposed Budget Cuts

Departments Face A Combined $711,800 Cut With Record Calls For Service

DULUTH, Minn. – The clock is ticking. Duluth fire and police departments are facing a $711,800 combined budget cut proposed by Mayor Emily Larson – a cut the unions believe is putting lives at serious risk.

It’s been one month since Larson released her 2018 budget proposal with a total of $2.1 million in cuts. And since then, the public has been out of the loop about what the cuts actually mean for departments like police and fire.

But for the first time since then, union presidents for fire and police are speaking out about their serious concerns, while calling on residents to speak up before councilors set the maximum operating levy for 2018 later this month, as FOX 21’s Dan Hanger reports.

“We are no longer able to find ways to do more with less. And I believe that this budget starts us on a course of doing less with less,” Larson said on Aug. 14.

It was a statement made curing Larson’s 2018 budget pitch to councilors – a pitch that’s baffling Fire Union President Pete Johnson.

“To just be told to do less with less. It’s an insult on what we do. It’s an insult on the men and women that respond on rigs,” Johnson said.

Johnson believes a $386,000 cut to the fire department’s budget will put firefighters and the public at greater risk.

“Everything that we do in order to do our jobs has to happen quickly and efficiently, and we are at as low as we can possibly be right now,” Johnson said.

In 2006, the department responded to 7,981 calls for service with 36 firefighters and 14 rigs.

Compare that 10 years later in 2016 with 12,796 calls for service, the same amount of firefighters and a fewer amount of rigs at 11.

“If we don’t stand up and make sure our staffing is treated with the value that it is, I’m afraid it will just keep slipping down there until we are further understaffed and the danger that we face is compound on it,” Johnson told FOX 21.

While nothing is finalized at this point, Johnson says one cut being talked about right now is to decrease daily staffing by one firefighter on each shift.

Those three firefighters would then be in the so-called relief pool to help cover vacations and sick leaves, and lesson the overtime budget.

But Johnson says that will mean dropping the minimum standard of a four-person crew on the downtown ladder truck to three.

“Through all the studies that have been done –professional studies and things like that — from when we drop four to three, our efficiency goes from 68 percent to 35 percent,” Johnson.

Meanwhile, for the Duluth Police Department, it’s faced with a $325,000 proposed budget cut.

“It’s very frustrating and disappointing to hear about cuts to public safety, police department in particular,” said Tom Maida, president of the Duluth Police Union.

Maida believes officers on the department are maxed out with a record number of police calls.

In 2006, the department responded to 74,314 calls for service with 145 officers and 28 supporting office staff.

In 2016, calls rose to a record of 109,841 with 154 officers and a slightly smaller support staff at 26.5.

“They’re working very hard. The cops do a great job here. They really push. They push themselves. They take lot of cases. Sometimes the officers will have multiple calls assigned to them as they are trying to keep up throughout the day,” Maida said.

And on top of that, Maida says resources are stretched thing dealing with the deadly heroin epidemic and the crime that follows throughout the city.

“We know that streets are bad, we know that’s a big push right now and focus to try to fix, but public safety is critical to all of us. Everyone who drives these streets needs to have a safe place to be in,” Maida explained.

And while cuts are not finalized with the police department right now, Maida says reducing support staff is on the table, which he believes would put more paperwork and reports on officers that the department is having trouble retaining these days.

“A lot of reasons they are leaving is they go places and earn more money, they’re taking fewer calls and perhaps they like the working environment a little bit better,” Maida said.

Police Chief Mike Tusken and Fire Chief Denny Edwards, both hired my Mayor Larson, say safety is their main priority and they are working hard to figure out how to handle the proposed budget cuts from Larson.

The chiefs will make their presentations on the specific cuts at a future council meeting as early as October before the budget it set by the council Dec. 11.

For Mayor Larson’s proposed budget breakdown, click here.

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