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City commission stands by fire cuts

Andy Ouriel • Mar 25, 2014 at 11:12 AM

Despite pleas from residents, Sandusky city commissioners Monday reiterated their stance to downsize fire operations by May.

About a month ago, commissioners voted to approve a $16.3 million everyday operating budget, which included $1.1 million in reductions significantly impacting fire services.

Among the fire cuts:

•Slash full-time staffing levels from 53 today to 49 by May. This would include laying off three firefighters in these positions and eliminating one unfilled spot.

•Scale back on overtime, training and taxpayer-funded physicals.

•Close Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road near Toft Dairy from May to October, prolonging response times for residents on Sandusky’s west side.

The reductions bothered a batch of residents speaking against the cuts on Monday at City Hall.

During a public meeting, Pinewood Condominiums resident Bill Armbrecht said he was speaking on behalf of his neighbors. Armbrecht and others wanted officials to withdraw enough money from the city’s EMS account in order to maintain present-day fire operations.

Through ambulance billing, the EMS account generates about $800,000 a year and is used for equipment and vehicle purchases, such as new fire trucks. The account’s balance totaled about $1.7 million in mid-February.

“We urge the city commission to amend the (budget) to reallocate enough money from the EMS fund to maintain the current level of service throughout the city of Sandusky until such time that additional revenue can be secured” Armbrecht said.

Commissioners responded to the request — but not at the same level residents sought.

The elected officials voted 7-0 to withdraw $400,000 this year from the EMS account, an additional $250,000 taken compared to years past.

But the additional amount only represents a sliver of what’s needed to save firefighter jobs and keep the station on Sandusky’s west end open.

Ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. responded to residents by echoing his longtime stance on these cuts.

Murray contends draining the EMS account would place an even greater burden onto Sandusky years later than what officials face today.

“The reserve has to be there for equipment purchases going forward,” Murray said. “All we are doing by burning through the reserves is delaying difficult decisions. I would rather be able to see the force (with four fewer) firefighters for the foreseeable future as opposed to (six or eight fewer) firefighters and burn through all your money to buy equipment.”

Developing a plan to avoid future financial problems might include potentially raising the city’s 1 percent income tax or 3 percent admissions tax rates. Officials could also push forward in placing a fire levy on an upcoming ballot, which would increase property taxes if approved.

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