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Ricci to retire in October

Andy Ouriel • Jan 21, 2014 at 10:30 AM

Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci announced plans to retire on Oct. 8.

The sudden resignation comes amid a budget crisis, in which a $1.1 million citywide shortfall severely threatens his department’s staffing and service levels.

Ricci’s retirement also seems puzzling, considering he won a competitive search process to become chief in March 2011.

But the 32-year area firefighter, who said fire chiefs typically serve four or five years, contends he knew all along when to call it quits.

Chief Ricci also responded to readers in a previous story "To shed some light on the subject, I was eligible to retire in August of 2009. I deferred my retirement at that time because I believed I still had much to offer the Citizens of Sandusky."  Click HERE for the rest of his comment

“I actually could’ve retired in 2009, but I deferred my retirement at that time,” said Ricci, who took home about $93,900 in pay in 2012. “My wife, myself and my family had all talked about (me retiring by) 2015. It just seemed right to provide my notice now. It’s a professional courtesy to provide six to nine months of notice to give the city plenty of time to look at their options”

Staying on through October should allow Ricci to finish up necessary projects and tasks.

Chief among them: helping to negate the city’s shortfall. Sandusky officials recently reworked their plan to offset a $1.1 million shortfall in the $16.3 million everyday operating budget, covering services such as police and fire. Municipal governments, such as Sandusky, must have a balanced budget, where income levels either match or exceed expenses, by March.

The tentative cuts hit fire operations hard, with almost $279,000 siphoned from an approximate $4.5 million budget.

Among the proposed cuts:

• $184,300: Laying off four full-time firefighters.    

These layoffs should occur by May, tentatively reducing full-time fire department staffing levels from 53 to 49.

• $94,400: Various fire department cuts.

The cuts are broken down by eliminating $42,600 in overtime, scrapping $41,800 in taxpayer-funded physicals and related bonuses and $10,000 in training.

“Getting through this budget process is critical,” Ricci said. “As a boss, we don’t like to lay off people, but that is my responsibility. Many fire chiefs will go through their entire career and never face the cuts we face. I’m committed to doing the things I need to do to make sure my staff is safe and the city is safe. Those are the challenges you deal with”

Ricci also wants to continue working on some initiatives he started, including targeting unsafe, vacant commercial buildings.

In early 2012, Ricci pioneered groundbreaking legislation for stricter enforcement against property owners vacating or ignoring blighted commercial buildings.

The law primarily aimed to improve neighborhood safety, since empty buildings attract criminal activity.

Two years ago, firefighters counted 170 vacant or abandoned commercial structures in Sandusky.

In early 2013, only 24 property owners violated the law.

Ricci also achieved many other accomplishments since becoming chief, such as:

• Outlawing the installation of often-dangerous outdoor wood-burning boilers or furnaces.

• Landing a $1 million federal grant in 2011 to employ six full-time firefighter positions. The grant expired in December, leading to employment issues today.

• Spearheading a plan for regional dispatch, in which city officials allowed Erie County workers to field 911 calls made from within city borders. The regional approach provides more efficiencies, including reducing city dispatching costs from $420,000 in 2011 to $280,000 in 2013.

“We are honored to have been able to work with Chief Ricci for so many years,” Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. said. “He was an important part of the fire department. We’re disappointed by the fact he soon won’t be with the fire department”

Murray said he’ll soon assemble a group to select Ricci’s successor. Sandusky’s bylaws indicate a search committee must be assembled to select prospective candidates. The city manager then chooses the next fire chief based on committee recommendations.

“I have every expectation by mid-summer that we should have the next fire chief selected so we can make a smooth transition,” Murray said.

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