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On the table

Matt Westerhold • Dec 23, 2013 at 6:47 AM

Naomi Twine found herself a rose between two thorns Friday when she was a guest on “Between the Lines Live” at sanduskyregister.com. She and commissioners-elect Dennis Murray and Dick Brady will be sworn in Jan. 3.

The trio hasn't let up since being the top three finishers in the Nov. 5 election, with the city's 2014 budget decisions right on top of them come next month. The fiscal crisis could force a vote as early as Jan. 15 or sooner on the city's payroll expenditures.

Watch the “Between the Lines Live” program with Brady, Murray and Twine with demand viewing at sanduskyregister.com.  

“There's going to have to be some trimmings, some cuts in this budget,” Brady said  

Twine and Murray agreed.“Nobody wants to make the cuts. That's the last thing we want to do. But our revenue stream has been cut,” Murray said. “We really need a budget that addresses the reality we face.”

Cuts need to be made immediately, all three agreed, but the city needs long-term planning

“It's heartbreaking to have these cuts. We don't want to let anybody go. We understand there are going to be people hurt as a result of this. I don't mean just the employees. I mean the public,” Murray said. “We are not going to be able to fund government at the level we should, and need to, but we don't have any choice.”

No easy solutions, Twine said, and she is looking for more input from department heads, the city manager and the finance director.

“I don't think we should be micromanagers,” she said.

Twine, Murray and Brady also gave fire Chief Paul Ricci kudos for a proposal to transfer money from an equipment fund to payroll to keep the fire department's current staffing level.

“We may not be able to do everything he's asked us to do, but I give him a lot of credit for fighting for his people and coming up with some suggestions,” she said.

Twine expressed frustration there hadn't been more and better planning previously. 

Murray, who's said previously he hopes to be selected by fellow commissioners as ex officio mayor during the organizational meeting Jan. 3, intends to develop a series of town hall style forums for commissioners to learn what residents expect for the budget and for restructuring city government.

Nothing is easy, and gauging the community is always an interesting proposition. But it's the right approach no matter how unwieldy it can be and how difficult it is to nail down any consensus.

It was a different sort of election in November with a wide range of topics getting more exposure in three short months than they'd gotten in the last two years. From moving city hall for an unknown cost to reducing the size of commission, everything thing seems on the table going into 2014 for the next two-year term of commission.

Regionalization and collaboration across the county and with neighboring counties also will be explored, the commissioners-elect said, to maintain public services and achieve reduced costs.

The budget woes will be a challenge, Murray said, but Sandusky's foundation — its bones” — were strong.

Better late than never, it seems returning commissioners also might be more on board to address the budget realities head-on, and that would mean layoffs. Payroll made up about 75 percent of the 2013 budget; cuts would have to come from that big slice.

The city staff already has been trimmed back the last several years, with nearly one-third fewer employees. It's stretched thin, right now.

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