A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

There are nine firefighters working for the Superior Township fire department. And all were paid more in 2010 than the supervisor, thanks to an average of $29,662 per person of overtime.

It wasn’t because of an unusually high amount of fires. Superior Township had 10 structure fires in 2010. Instead, it’s because anytime any firefighter takes a vacation or misses a day of work, his spot is automatically filled using overtime due to what is referred to in the industry as “minimum staffing.”

Superior Township Supervisor William McFarlane made $73,603 in 2010, according to financial documents released by the township. The nine firefighters’ pay in 2010 ranged from $76,623 to $97,579. One firefighter took home $44,016 in overtime.

Firefighters in Superior Township work 24-hour shifts and 2,756 hours per year. Superior Township is just north of Ann Arbor and has about 13,000 residents.

McFarlane said the firefighters’ overtime was planned. He said it was cheaper than hiring three more firefighters and that the overtime was necessary to provide the level of service that residents demand. He also said that it was difficult to find quality on-call firefighters as replacements.

“It’s an informed decision to keep the cost down and still preserve the service,” McFarlane said. “We have strong support for our fire department. “

David Phillips, the Superior Township clerk, said the overtime amounts were not surprising.

“We’ve looked at this issue,” Phillips said. “We know the costs to our residents. … This is the level of protection we want to provide our citizens.”

Jack McHugh, legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the “artificial” minimum staffing requirements allow firefighters to make a lot of overtime regardless of whether they are out on call or in the fire station.

By allowing rigid overtime pay standards, Superior Township officials have “constructed a cost-increase trap from which they can see no way out,” McHugh wrote in an email.

“Escaping the trap first requires officials to accept their duty to place taxpayers and citizens ahead of all other interests,” McHugh wrote. “One consequence of doing so may be a realistic reassessment of genuine public safety needs given certain realities, including many nearby fire departments that regularly cooperate, and the relatively tiny number of dangerous fires that seriously threaten the community.”

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Central Michigan University economist Jason Taylor explains how raising the minimum wage will hurt teen workers trying to find their first job. See more at "Raising the Minimum Wage, Lowering Opportunity."


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