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Fire chief has a $1M plan

Andy Ouriel • Dec 2, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Sandusky officials have developed a proposal to keep six full-time firefighters on staff.

At a recent finance meeting, Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci requested shifting about $1 million from another city account to cover the six salaries in 2014 and 2015.

A $1 million federal grant, set to expire this year, funded the payroll for the positions for the past three years.

There’s no room in the fire department’s proposed $5.2 million 2014 budget to fund these positions.    

About 94 percent of the fire department’s budget is used for payroll.

At a glance

• Some Sandusky officials want to take a total of $1 million from another city account to fund six full-time firefighter positions in 2014 and 2015. 

• The six positions were funded by a federal grant that is set to expire this month. 

• This city account primarily funds replacements and repairs for fire-related vehicles and equipment.

Each year firefighter salaries typically increase because of union-approved raises and other related benefits, including surging health insurance costs.

So city officials needed to find the money elsewhere to maintain full-time staffing levels at 53 firefighters.

The proposal

After months of research, Ricci and others concluded the city should fund $1 million in salaries by taking money from an account dedicated to replacing or repairing fire-related vehicles and equipment.

Problem is, they’ll drain a large chunk of money from the fund, which is known as the EMS account. Ambulance billing fuels the EMS account.

The account today shows a balance of $1.8 million.

When considering for other income sources, the account should total about $900,000 by 2015.

“We’re using a short-term solution for a long-term challenge,” Ricci said. “The downside to doing this is you are exhausting your vehicle, facilities and equipment replacement budget. But this will give us the necessary time to develop a plan for what we need to do”

Ricci said shifting money around, a tactic previously done by officials, is a last resort to ensure “minimum staffing levels”

“We are offering a minimum level of service today,” Ricci said. “How do I know that? It’s based on 30 years of experience. There’s a lot of activity in our city. I need the amount of people I currently have to provide the level of service necessary to the people in our city”

Ricci hasn’t formally presented his plan to commissioners in a public setting yet.

It’s not known exactly when Ricci will make a presentation nor when commissioners could — or even would — support the funding proposal.

But at least one commissioner said he’s on board with the plan.

“I’m in favor of keeping the 53 firefighters on staff,” city commissioner Wes Poole said. “We need to do what have to do to maintain that service level with the number of people we have now”

Negative impact

If city officials reject the proposal, and no other funding method surfaces, Ricci said the department’s full-time staff would decrease to 47.

Among the fallouts from a smaller staff:

• Losing six people equates to two fewer people working on each shift in the three city-based fire stations. This could mean responding to fewer emergency calls. Sandusky fire receives about 5,300 emergency calls a year, with 75 percent devoted for ambulance runs and 25 percent for fires.

• Plunging departmental morale.

• Neglecting non-emergency activities, such as volunteer opportunities and community events.

• Closing Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road for at least one day a week.

“What’s going to be the result with no money?” Ricci said. “I’m not gong to be able to get service to people I have in the past, and there will be consequences”

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