DETROIT (WWJ) – About two dozen firefighters and supporters took to the streets, Monday morning, protesting the Detroit bankruptcy.
Engine 51 on Livernois is officially on “brownout” status, but firefighters talking to WWJ City Beat Reporter Vickie Thomas say the fire station has been closed for almost two years now.
Picketing there — among active members of the Detroit Fire Department — was retired fire captain Marion Syms, who carried a sign that read: ”Our pension is 96.1 percent funded.”
Emergency Manager Keyvn Orr has said Detroit’s police and fire pension funds are virtually empty.
“We’re all in the same boat … active and retired,” said Syms.
“We really need these fire houses open and everything. And just like this house … These people took a special tax assessment a long time ago to keep this open in this area, and I’m surprised that they’re not really that upset about it [being closed],” Syms said.
Fire engine operator Verdi Day says people’s lives and property are at risk.
“We are out here today to inform the citizens that they are not safe,” she said. “We have a lot of fire houses that’s closed down. We have rigs that’s not working properly. We have six Detroit EMS [units] in the city, and they [citizens] are not safe.”
“We have the university down the street; we have this well-known community behind us. These are the people that pay us; these are the people that pay their taxes, so they should be protected — but now their insurance rates are gonna go up,” Day said.
But are police and fire pensions protected by Michigan’s constitution, even during a municipal bankruptcy?
WWJ’s Charlie Langton asked Gov. Rick Snyder during a live interview Monday morning.
“Well that’s the legal question that needs to get addressed — so I’m not going to speculate on that,” said Snyder. “That’s what this [bankruptcy] process will help define in terms of going through that.”
“A couple of things are important with respect to people working for the city and retirees, because I do care about them … This is a difficult situation … and, in the bankruptcy petition, one of the first things being requested is that the bankruptcy judge appoint someone to represent the retirees, so they have a voice at the table; so they can be heard in an effective fashion,” Snyder said.
Orr has said police and fire retiree benefits will continue as they normally do until the end of the year.
Snyder approved the Detroit’s Chapter 9 filing on Friday, saying it was the only viable option for a city crushed under an estimated $18 billion in long-term debt.