In a sweeping 6-0 vote Sandusky, OH elected officials approved four full-time Firefighter positions to be laid-off and closed fire station number seven for six months. Officials faced a $1.1 million dollar shortfall in their operating budget. Officials feel that bringing fire department personnel number from fifty-three to forty-nine will assist them in balancing their budget. You can watch the full session at the bottom of the article.
“An eerie chill saturated the commission chambers inside City Hall on Monday as elected officials authorized substantial cuts to Sanduskyâ€™s fire operations.
City commissioners begrudgingly voted 6-0 to approve a $16.3 million everyday operating budget forÂ 2014, which included eliminating four fulltime fire positions and closing a fire station for six months.
Watch the entire meeting in the player below
Before approving the budget that includes other cuts, commissioners faced a $1.1 million shortfall with expensesÂ surpassing revenue.Â Â Â Â
Municipal governments, such as Sandusky, must have a balanced budget.
The biggest reductions occurred in fire operations, where not enough revenue existed today to maintain all 53 full-time staffing positions.
At a glance
To help negate a $1.1 million shortfall, Sandusky city commissioners made various cuts to the fire department, including:
â€¢Slashing full-time staffing levels from 53 today to 49 by May.
â€¢Closing Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road near Toft Dairy from May to October, prolonging response times for residents on Sanduskyâ€™s west side.
â€¢Scaling back on overtime, training and taxpayer-funded physicals.
In 2011, fire commanders obtained a $1 million federal grant, ensuring 53 full-time employees remained on staff for about three years.
But during this time, city officials â€” for whatever reason â€” never stashed away funds to maintain these positions once the grant expired this past December. Enough funds remain to keep 53 full-time fire slots until May.
Commissioners ultimately decided to cut four of these positions to balance their budget.
Follow the money
The Register takes an in-depth look at Sanduskyâ€™s $16.3 million operating budget this week and tells readers where the moneyâ€™sÂ spent:
â€¢Wednesday: Horticultural and greenhouse operations
â€¢Thursday: Sandusky Transit and public transportation
â€¢Friday: Recreational assets n Saturday: Paving, plowing and patching up streets.
â€¢Sunday: Dealing with a downsized fire department
â€¢Monday: Cemetery services
For weeks, Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci and union personnelÂ offered several other revenuegenerating and cost-cutting measures to avoid layoffs.
Before cuts occurred, union personnel even agreed to various concessions, including forgoing taxpayer-funded physicals, training opportunities and overtime payouts.
But it wasnâ€™t enough.
In total, city commissioners slashed about $186,000 in fire expenses, lowering the departmentâ€™s budget to $4.5 million in 2014.
The cuts included a $136,000 reduction eliminating four fulltime fire positions, forcing three firefighters out of their jobs by May. The fourth position is currently empty.
â€œItâ€™s disappointingâ€ Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci said. â€œWe knew this day was comingâ€
Furthermore, city officials approved shutting down Sandusky Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road near Toft Dairy from MayÂ to October, likely prolonging response times for anyone needing emergency assistance on the cityâ€™s west side.
â€œWe will get to any emergency one way or another â€” but it will just take longer,â€ said Sandusky firefighter Ryan Brotherton, whoâ€™s also the departmentâ€™s union vice president. â€œIf we canâ€™t get to an emergency in a timely fashion, itâ€™s going to be a big problem and people will suffer, hurt and feel lossâ€
The fire departmentâ€™s scaling back at a time when community members need them more than ever.
Case in point: Calls for ambulance and fire runs have steadily increased over the past few years, peaking to 5,400 calls in 2013 â€” the most since the early 2000s.
No commissioner seemed happy about the cuts.
â€œTonight marks the bottoming out for Sandusky,â€ said Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr., whoâ€™s spearheaded budgetÂ discussions and decisions since entering office in January. â€œWe need to find additional revenues going forward. Continuing to cut is just not an option for the cityâ€
Many residents attending the meeting voiced support for a levy if it meant replenishing and maintaining fire staffing levels and services provided.
â€œItâ€™s worth it to me and my family to pay a bit more (through a levy) to get help,â€ Bardshar Road resident Chris Sims said.
Murray, whoâ€™s hosted town hall-style meetings in past weeks informing community members about Sanduskyâ€™s financial challenges and seeking strategies to counter them, said heâ€™s willing to discuss any reasonable options for finding additional income sources.
â€œI donâ€™t know what the answers are,â€ Murray said. â€œItâ€™s your town. You tell usâ€