Tough Budget Choices Ahead for Jackson

By: Alex Goldsmith Email
By: Alex Goldsmith Email

Jackson Police Officer Shane Laporte wears a lot of hats right now. Laporte is a defensive tactics instructor, member of the SWAT team, and President of the local police union on top of his normal duties.

And firefighter isn't a job title he thinks he or his department could add right now.

"Taking a police offer and having him try to be a firefighter and learn all of the disciplines within the fire service and expecting all of that from one person in a city as busy as ours is is almost impossible," said Laporte.

The City of Jackson is considering a number of proposals for trimming police and fire budgets including combining the two into a public safety department. The main reason they're looking at cuts there is that the two departments take up two thirds of the city's budget.

"We have very difficult decisions to make," said Jackson Mayor Karen Dunigan.

Some options include trimming 20 police officers and 10 firefighters. That would bring the number of firefighters in Jackson to 20 and police officers to 37.

Todd Weaver, President of Jackson's firefighters union, told WILX that these departments were already understaffed. Laporte cited figures that show that Jackson has the second highest violent crime rate out of 32 cities of comparable size in the state, while only ranking 9th out of that same group in total officers.

Laporte and Weaver say they've found some other areas where the city can save money. Laporte pointed to a series of smaller cuts elsewhere including privatizing city pools and golf courses or contracting out Jackson's HR. He also said that adjusting health insurance could save $800,000 while consolidating police and fire administration into one building could cut out some of the higher level positions.

Former fire chief and current city councilmember Ken Gaiser says he thinks a public safety model is feasible and that there are ways of delivering better service with fewer people.

"I absolutely believe it's possible for firefighters and police to do the same job and there are very good examples as close as Blackman
Township," said Gaiser. "Change is always met with resistance to change. Always has been, always will be."

Even if Jackson did elect to go with a public safety model, which they have not as of yet, they would still need approval from Jackson's voters.


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