The city of Muskegon Heights plans to offer the city of Muskegon a formal proposal to provide fire department services to that city by the end of May.

Then it would be up to city leaders in Muskegon to decide if they want to outsource fire department services.

Muskegon city manager Frank Peterson says overtime, sick time and other scheduling costs in the Muskegon Fire Department are “unsustainable.”

Unable to negotiate concessions from the firefighter’s union, he is now working with Muskegon Heights on a plan to consolidate fire protection in the two cities under the command of Muskegon Heights.

On Tuesday March 13, Muskegon Heights City Manager Jake Eckholm said the initial talks between the two cities started last fall.

Right now the city of Muskegon Heights doesn't have sufficient information to make an offer to the city of Muskegon. But over the next two months city leaders in Muskegon Heights plan to study the idea.

If an agreement is reached it would likely mean Muskegon Heights firefighters will staff fire stations in the city of Muskegon. City Manager Eckholm says any proposal would include quality fire coverage for both cities.

Peterson confirmed that if an agreement is reached, the Muskegon Fire Department would no longer exist.

“My expectation is we would probably continue to own our own equipment, our own trucks and things like that. Muskegon Heights would provide the personnel to provide the actual service,” said Peterson.

Right now Eckholm is studying fire call data in both cities. He says any proposal would be the result of a diligent study.

There are no possible estimates at this time what fire services provided by the city of Muskegon Heights would cost the city of Muskegon.

The city of Muskegon and the firefighter's union have been at odds recently over a $700,000 cut to the departments budget. Muskegon's fire union believes the city has allowed department staffing to to reach dangerous low levels.

Eckholm says without a doubt if a deal is struck with the city of Muskegon it would result in Muskegon Heights hiring more firefighters.

Peterson says the the consolidation would save the city money and he things fire protection would be as good or better.

The current contract with the firefighters expires at the end of 2018. Peterson says they have been unable to arrange any negotiations with the union and none are currently scheduled.

“They refuse to negotiate,” he says. “We have been unable to meet with the group. Unable to even meet.”

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