Franklin Park grappling with budget issue

January 18, 2010 3:23:23 PM PST
Budget problems are forcing a suburban community to consider making cuts to its public safety departments.Officials in Franklin Park say they will not make cuts that put residents at risk.

Franklin Park is the latest Chicago area community facing a budget deficit, which stands at more than $3 million.

Leaders are looking at every way possible to cut spending and increase revenue.

What's happening in Franklin Park is a snapshot of municipal budget migraines across the country. The financial hole is so deep that budgeters wind up cutting police and fire, never a popular option.

The village's new mayor says he inherited a budget horribly out of whack and well beyond the reach of a temporary fix through worker furloughs. He says tough choices have to be made.

But permanent cuts are not playing well with some of those paid to serve and protect.

Franklin Park is a village of more than 19,000 residents with a budget deficit of nearly $3.5 million.

Starting next month, residents will be paying for garbage collection for the first time. But that $25 each month will only scratch the deficit surface.

Village leaders say they have no choice but to cut the police and fire budgets, or come spring, they won't make payroll.

"I think this whole matter can be resolved without any lay-offs, if everyone cooperates fully," Mayor Barrett Pedersen.

Pedersen has proposed early retirements for six positions in the police department, and Monday, police union and village attorneys tentatively agreed on that, but cuts in the fire department may be more problematic.

Franklin Park is served by two ambulances operated by private contract employees. The administration plans to cut that to one ambulance, close the oldest of three firehouses, and cut six positions in the fire department.

In a village criss-crossed by constant rail traffic, firefighters say cuts add up to trouble.

"Response time will be increased critically by several minutes because manning will be under-stafffed on vehicles," said Luke Palermo of Firefighter's Local 1526.

"I spoke with my chief and three commanders, and they indicate there'll be the same response time. Every single one of the firemen are EMT qualified. So, they'll be responding just as they are now with trucks and ambulances," the mayor said.

Firefighters say they are already down five positions, and losing another six -- whether through lay-offs or buy-outs -- amounts to cutting almost a fourth of the department's manpower.

"We're here to serve and protect property and life, and that's what we're here to do, and we'll do that at any cost, but he needs to understand that we need the right tools to do that. And part of those tools is the manpower to be able to initiate the responses and our job duties to be able to save people and their property," said Palermo.

Bargainers for the police in Franklin Park say the early buy-outs of six more senior people are preferable to lay-offs. And while the Fraternal Order of Police believes that response times ought not be hurt, anytime you cut a small department by that number, it's a "cause for concern."

The village board is expected to vote on the issue Tuesday night and will, no doubt, be hearing from a lot of firefighters.