Fire chief’s plan under fire

Ricci storms out of meeting after decision delayed.
Andy Ouriel
Dec 11, 2013
Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci stormed out of Monday’s city meeting after commissioners refused to make a decision on fire department finances.

Ricci pleaded with commissioners to shift $1 million from an equipment and vehicle account to payroll purposes, a move thatwould preserve six fulltime firefighter positions in 2014 and 2015. A federal grant covering these salaries expired a few days ago.

There could be consequences if the city’s fulltime fire staffing levels drop from 53 to 47, according to Ricci.

A smaller staff would mean: q Increasing response times for crews headed to fires and other emergencies. On average, it could jump from 2 minutes to 4 minutes.

• Closing Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road by Toft Dairy and Fire Station No. 3 near Cedar Point.

• Giving priority to certain emergencies rather than responding to calls on a first-come, first-served basis.

Commissioners effectively delayed Ricci’s proposal until January, which lets a newly elected set of commissioners decide the issue.

The inaction at Monday’s meeting frustrated Ricci and about 10 other firefighters who attended.

“These are tough times. These are extraordinary times. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” Sandusky fire Capt. Dave Degnan said. “This is a one-time deal, and you can hang me on a cross if they do it again”

Commissioners and city officials knew about a year ago they’d be facing this problem, and yet they still did nothing, Ricci said.

“I am wasting my time,” Ricci said just before he stormed out of the commission chambers.

Ricci couldn’t understand why money from one fire account — coined EMS, for vehicle and equipment purchases — couldn’t be swapped into the fire payroll account.

The EMS account, fueled by ambulance billing, today shows a balance of about $1.8 million. Even after paying out six salaries and accounting for other expenses, the EMS funds should still total about $900,000 in 2015.

“You have to do the right thing, and that’s spending down the fund and reallocating the money,” Ricci said. “This is about serving the city and community and not letting six firefighters wonder if they are going to have a job next year because we can’t make a decision in this room”

Commissioners voted 4-2 against Ricci’s proposal, with Diedre Cole, John Hamilton, Wes Poole and Jeff Smith opposing and Pervis Brown and Julie Farrar in favor. Commissioner Keith Grohe didn’t attend the meeting.

Budget estimates show Sandusky, by early next year, projecting a $1 million deficit in its $16 million 2014 budget. There’s no room in the fire department’s $5.2 million 2014 budget to fund these positions.

Several unappealing options exist to offset the looming deficit by March, including raising taxes, laying off workers or spending down the city’s $4 million surplus.

The fire department accounts for about half the projected deficit. Another $500,000 shortfall derives from cuts in local government funds and the elimination of estate taxes city officials previously collected.

Where commissioners stand on Ricci’s plan
Commissioners and others offered views on Ricci’s proposal at Monday’s meeting. Here’s what some had to say:

“I believe that the existing commission (would do) a disservice to our community by acting on this. We’re already starting the budget process with one hand tied behind our backs. We’ll end up with both hands behind our back.”  — Dick Brady, commissioner-elect

“We have the funds that is already allocated to the fire department. It’s just a line item change. To me, the equipment doesn’t save lives. Men save lives. “I’m not going to substitute equipment for manpower.” — Pervis Brown, commissioner

“This presentation is wasted on this commission. The new commission has the authority to undo whatever we do. We knew it was coming, and we did absolutely nothing to prepare for it. We relied on Chief Ricci to come up with a Plan B, and now we are not happy with Plan B.” — Diedre Cole, commissioner

“I don’t think a big company like Cedar Point would want Fire Station No. 3 to close if they had a big fire.” — Julie Farrar, commissioner

“It’s horrible that the city is looking at significant layoffs, but we are going to have to spread that obligation and that burden around. It is unreasonable to think your department should be immunized from the cuts that (could) be made.” — Dennis Murray Jr. commissioner-elect

“I do think it was a waste and untimely on your part, since this is a decision that’s going to be made next year.” — Wes Poole, commissioner

“We should work on the budget. We don’t want to let anyone go. But at this time, as tough as the budget is, we would do our citizens a disservice. We need to worry about it at the same time we work (on the budget.)” — Jeff Smith, commissioner

Comments

deertracker

You are not making sense. Just because you do not own property in no way means you pay NO taxes. It's always the poor people's fault. Only a fool would assume that!

SamAdams

No, not owning property doesn't mean you don't pay any taxes. Not working, however, DOES.

Still, you make a valid point. But let's re-visit a comment I made not long ago and talk about ENFORCING the law for those whose payments and/or taxes are unpaid. A very visible and sizeable example: The failure to do anything about the Hoppers Trailer Park water bill that was what, five YEARS in arrears???

Before raising fees and/or raising taxes, wouldn't it make more sense to collect the monies the City is ALREADY due?

deertracker

You are wrong. Not working means you don't pay income taxes. Regardless of how one earns their money, when they spend it they pay taxes. You are preaching to the choir. You are speaking of things neither of us have any control over. My comment is merely commending those that have earned it. I do believe though that the persons doing the job knows best what it takes to do that job well.

OnlyfoolsAssume

And they don't even pay the miniscule one percent the city charges for taxes. Which by the way hasn't been raised in forty some years. However, the price of everything else has gone up.

publicsafety

Close st #7 please! It makes sens saves money. There is no requirement within the grant documentation requiring the jobs be maintained, read it for yourself. SFD needs realignment in priorities, and to really sit down and think about staffing. The fireservice has changed, with it so should each department, there are not as many fires as their used to be and with so many synthetics, saving property is harder than ever especially when you are worried about firefighter injury! It is all a big cost versus benefit game. I completely agree with what the commissioners did and I think honestly SFD along with the rest of the fireservice needs to take a good long look at service. What other ares can be served within the community to help justify their requests. Keep in mind with the new healthcare, medicare and medicaid reimbursements always and ever changing and going down, just really how long do you think that million plus dollars will be in the EMS fund. Reimbursement isn't going up by anymeans!! Get a grip SFD and public safety! As a public safety employee myself, I think you really need to stop and take a look!! You took at oath to protect and serve, NOT to get rich.

DaMob

Hey public safety. Why you so angry with fulltime departments? Someone not hire you? Even though in a post above you claim to be a firefighter? So, since no one would hire you, where do you volunteer at? Maybe you should just be happy that you have a warm cozy desk to dispatch from.

deertracker

My only comment is that firefighters and paramedics get the utmost respect from me. What they do is truly heroic. I have no opinion about all this other stuff because I am not knowledgeable enough on it but I do believe the Venice Rd. station should stay. The redevelopment that is taking place and the amount of elderly residents on that side of town require a quick response.

Uncommon Sense

Another idea for cooperation for all cities and townships that are struggling: Create a fire district. Sandusky and Perkins joining into a single fire district could work well, maybe even Margaretta and Huron. One fire chief, one dispatch center, better coordination among firefighters and equipment. And best of all, one independent board whose sole existence is to manage the fire department and its budget.

In spite of this, let me add that Chief Ricci is trying to find a solution within the boundaries of what he can do. It really doesn't make sense why funds received as a result of EMS billing wouldn't be used to support the very firefighters/paramedics/EMTs that respond to the calls. EMS is an expensive service to operate. Not using the EMS billing to help fund the cost of providing the extra people to respond to these emergencies is silly.

kURTje

Perfect example of why the Register will lose with their format changes on comments. Could you image trying to hold a forum publicly & be heard? Here at least (agree/dis-agree) ALL can talk.

donutshopguy

kURTje,

The talk won't end. The talk won't even start.

Darkhorse

The city was supposed to close Station 7 after the overpass was built and now the city can take care of both situations at one time. Mandates for fireman or police don't mean a thing if the budget can't support the personnel.

sandtown born a...

The chief is willing to show documentation to validate the needs and replacement schedule to any one interested, maybe our city commissioners should take note instead of all the closed door meetings and slow as molasses reviews, they should be transparent as well. That will never happen in Sandusky

deertracker

I thought you lived in Perkins! Am I wrong?

sandusky2012

let the taxpayers decide what needs done put a levy on the ballots for fire and ems and let the taxpayers vote on it........ also why not raise the prices up for ems transportation like NCEMS fees are . I had an ems bill to the hospital and this was almost 800.00 lets raise the fees

J. Hartman

I am extremely pleased in a positive way and not a sarcastic one, that this dialogue is taking place. I still encourage anyone with questions on the matter or those that have the solution to reach out to Chief Ricci to get the facts from the source. Also, I see comments that state and they regurgitate national and city of a similar size response times and numbers. I ask you this, your loved one(and I pray this doesn't happen to anyone) has a heart attack, a stroke, somehow has a main artery severed, infant is accidentally locked in a car, or maybe they lose consciousness for whatever the reason, how important does that response time factor into your thinking? A minute can be a lifetime, 30 seconds can be the difference between being paralyzed and having all limbs functioning properly, 15 seconds could be the difference of having a functioning brain or on life support, but a second can be the difference between life or death! If you or a loved one are in a situation where a single second makes the difference between life here or in afterlife, would you support a decision to eliminate emergency staff or would you b*^$h about there should have been a faster response? Lastly, speaking of numbers and national statistics, I don't believe most people actually understand you DO have a couple of the finest leaders in the infancy of their respective tenures doing one hell of a job with the challenges they have taken on the obstacles they have overcome in a short period of time. Are they perfect? No, but not one of us are and they are doing all in their power to correct any wrongs that have previously come before them. Just a thought here, again just another one of my crazy thoughts, but instead of bashing those who protect us and YES SAVE OUR LIVES AND THE ONES WE LOVE, how about supporting them? I know that still doesn't address the financial situation, but support them! I could give a rats left toe what other cities do! Stop trying to compare Sandusky to places no one has even heard of. That's great city "whatever" has a response time of X minutes and do just fine. Well what if Sandusky had a response time of 3 minutes? Be better than who you try to make comparisons too. Let them look at us and say "Damn,we want to be like them" no smart comments needed there, but in all honesty, stop using other locals as a measuring device! WE ARE SANDUSKY, not Toledo, not Cleveland, not Perkins, we are freaking Sandusky! Either support, give solutions, or get out of the way! Whether you realize or can't even comprehend this fact, Sandusky is actually moving in the right direction! So, put away your daggers and forked tongues and be part of the solution. A solution I am confident is there, but damn, STOP KICKING PEOPLE WHO ARE DOING THEIR DAMNEDEST TO MAKE YOUR LIFE SAFER AND BETTER!!

donutshopguy

J.,

So your philosophy is support at all cost. Do you have endless money?

There becomes a time in any public institution where the cost exceeds the value delivered. Some of us like to apply this thought before we agree on dramatic changes to the financial structure of that institution.

Is that OK?

J. Hartman

No I do not, but I do believe there are other avenues not being looked at or considered. Again, I pray this doesn't happen to anyone, but less staff equates to longer response time and if a 1 second is the difference between one of your family members living or dieing would you cut staff? As I have said previously, start thinking outside of the box. I just got back a few hours ago from Avon. While there I was also in talks with a multinational chemical and agricultural bio-technologies company out of Missouri and a few other things are on the hot stove. Not saying I can bring anything here for sure, but I'm making the effort to see if there are some possibilities out there that we could benefit from and the company would benefit as well. I don't sit here all day and comment on others comments without putting forth effort myself. I comment after I put in the effort. Again, I'm easy to find and contact donutshopguy. You just let me know when and where you would like to sit down so we can share thoughts?

T. A. Schwanger

###
@J. Hartman

If I recall you moved (back) to Sandusky a couple of years ago.

I always read all blog comments as they do provide worthy information. One commenter addresses the myth insurance rates will go up if the City decides to go to partial volunteer fire services.

Another points out the City did just fine when Fire Station 3 had to close periodically before the SAFER Grant.

Just a suggestion, you may be advised to look at past Sandusky history on previous attempts to increase revenue through tax increases, after all, that is what this issue is coming down to.

In the last 15 years or so, there have been several attempts at increasing the income tax--all have failed miserably because the taxpayers are not happy with the way the City spends money but the spending habits continue.

We are still paying for an over budget fire station that the voters said no to at the polls (tax increase) but was built anyway. We are still paying for an over budget City Service Complex. We are still paying for a taxpayer funded infrastructure project at Cold Creek Crossing (developer in bankruptcy). The list goes on.

Wages have been cut at the General Motors and Ford plants by 40%. We no longer have the industrial base we once had. Population has dropped from 32,000 to 25,000. When I started work at GM New Departure there were 3,200 employees--now we're at 725.

So the answer is not throwing more money at the pig. We need to downsize just like business has. If that means going to a partial volunteer fire department or combining the Police Chief and Fire Chief into one position of Safety Service Director, closing a fire station, etc. then that's what needs to happen. Unfortunately these decisions should have been made 1). As the union contracts were being negotiated last year and 2). Before the SAFER Grant expired instead of last minute.

Not too long ago the City (government) was delighted to have a $1 million carryover. Now we need $3 million. Why? Debt so high we need $3 million to maintain bond rating.

The best decisions and opinions come thru education.

J. Hartman

Tim, you are correct and I did move back a few years ago. You are also correct and the advise is well taken, that I need to do a little more research. Thus I would understand how and why things are where they are today and how it all began in the first place. I have never claimed to hold the magic wand, but I also know this dialogue(in my mind anyways) is positive. Throwing out ideas, getting minds thinking, suggesting researching certain areas past events, I believe all falls under the positive column. I understand the auto industry decline has had an extremely huge effect on Sandusky and the surrounding communities. Thus why I encourage the outside the box thinking which would increase tax revenue's. The Sandusky Bay is OUR oil well! What I mean there is use what we have that no one else has? Bring in more and bigger fishing tournaments (well aware why we lost one do to a former commissioners words) I hate fishing and have no desire to do so, but when I see several million dollars in boat trailers alone, this tells me it's something to be harvested. Maybe we bring in the professional jet ski circuit, entice a major lure or fishing pole company to come here? Just ideas, same as two years ago when I encouraged those who can make it happen to look at the smaller corporate headquarters in Chicago. Illinois raised there corporate tax and will not decrease until 2017. Even though Chicago is by far more appealing than Sandusky, you save someone a few million a year in taxes alone, someone will listen. Around that same time I also encouraged people to reach out to the national sports drink companies and encourage them through video produced by our youth and a plan to sponsor a community instead of an individual athlete. Funny as 5 Hour Energy was the second company I listed back then and that is EXACTLY what they are doing now! Also suggested we reach out to the cell phone companies before we ever accepted the every time we're in a jam go to Cedar Point for upgrades to Strobel Field. I was told that was idiotic and would never work. Google Glenn Oak High School and then tell me it was idiotic? Again, I believe this is positive dialogue, I will do a better job on research, and I will keep throwing ideas out there no matter how silly they may sound. Sooner or later, someone will have a silly idea that will make a lot of sense! I would still encourage you to take Paul up on his offer and I also honestly thank you for the suggestion to look into the history books a little more. S.M.I.L.E.

T. A. Schwanger

###

@J Hartman

Now you know mine and others' frustrations.

I don't remember hearing those ideas you mention. Maybe you are talking to the wrong people. Closed minded, narrow thinking politicians with only their own personal agenda perhaps?

Why aren't we marketing the American Crayon and Sandusky Cabinet Property for lite commercial/industrial use? Why are we always suckered into cleaning up someone else's industrial mess (Wysteria Farms, etc.) costing us valuable funds we could use for low-moderate areas and streets or new industry. Answer--lack of collaborative leadership.

J. Hartman

I will be honest Tim, I am not sure on why none of those things have been at least entertained. County commissioners are more of an issue on road blocks in my opinion and several things I'm blown away by that they at the very least didn't allow certain business's/organizations give them a pitch. I know in the past, yourself and others have said I'm "tight" with a certain commissioner. That would be 100% correct, but that individual also doesn't mold my thought process and we don't always agree, but we do on a lot of topics and I will stick up for that individual whenever I can. That being said, we as a whole, hold grudges and dwell on the past. Yes you can't forget the past because you will be doomed to repeat it, but you should forgive. However, if WE can put some of those issues from the past to bed, have open discussions, forgive but not forget,and be open to compromise, WE might actually get somewhere. Will everyone always agree? Absolutely not and nor should we, that's a recipe for disaster. But until folks can sit down and admit maybe their plan is not the best, but maybe it can be if combined with another idea, where are we ever going to head? Exactly, no where! Time to end the bs of people with the "last names" being counted on for answers. Look around, we keep approving the same folks for positions of authority because we recognize the last name? It's almost idiotic to keep running into the brick wall expecting something to be different when it's the same people who delivered us into the current situation or at least the same last name or organization. It's dumb Tim! I believe you have valid points, but I also believe until we are willing to compromise and work towards a common good through cooperation, we will continue to waste our time. We as a community are better than the petty issues we can't agree on going on decades now. Not aimed directly at you, but people here need to be a bigger man/woman and understand they are not OZ and there is no shame in working with an opposing view point. That's called humanity and it is also called being a team. We need to be a team Tim and not adversaries, the team will not always agree on who the best player is at whatever position, but I promise a lot more games can be won if we work as a team for a common goal! Hopefully the team will become a family somewhere down the road. Just me and my thick rose colored glasses sharing my thoughts.

T. A. Schwanger

###

@J. Hartman

John I, and others supporting the protection and enhancement of public waterfront access areas, will be the first ones in line to support the concept of industry or residential on the former, under demolition Sandusky Cabinets site. Likewise for the former APEX property or the Keller Building property.

But, when it comes to private development on decades long public areas along our waterfront, such as Battery Park or the Sandusky Bay Pavilion, private development is taboo.

Opinions differ on sufficient public access. Some believe a 10 foot path along the waterfront is suffice. We tend to disagree. As well do national and regional studies.

http://www.miseagrant.umich.edu/...

You've heard me say before, some City Commissioner's, not only the one you mention, govern by "demolition by neglect". Rather than seek funding to improve areas such as the Sandusky Bay Pavilion, a majority City Commission finds a way to delay improvements in hopes the facility will continue to decay beyond repair and along comes a private developer to save the day.

J. Hartman

Tim, I'm not in anyone's mind except my own(questionable at times)so I can't say what they privately think. However, I really do have a hard time swallowing the let everything decay and then bulldoze pill. I just can't see that thought as being reality and even those I don't agree with. I can't see them with that way of thinking either. I could be wrong, but no matter what side you speak with, seems to me there are a lot of unknowns out there that form ones reality. What I mean by that, if I think person A has an agenda. I have never asked person A if it is their true agenda, but because person A hasn't confronted me or explained their intentions, I will come up with my own conclusion and since person A never questioned my thoughts on their agenda, it must be a fact? Just saying, dialogue where questions can be asked and answered with out taking aim at the other person, trying to one up them, make ones self look to be the hero, maybe some of those false opinions of what is reality can be erased? Just a thought. Ask a question in a civil manner with respect, I believe more times than not you will get an answer with respect and honesty in return. Again, just my crazy opinion and I wear rose colored glasses.

Darkhorse

The situation with the firemen is not looking good. If Cedar Point is so worried about Station 3 closing, maybe the admission tax needs to be looked as well. The city hasn't raised the admission tax for a while and it is past due. I don't think the city can make a million in cuts. Half the police and fire department would have to be laid off.

samiam

The City of Sandusky, is approximately 9.73 square miles in size and has a population of 25,793 according to the 2010 census. We are also responsible for 12.18 square miles of water in Sandusky Bay and Lake Erie and have about 34.97 miles of shoreline in the City Limits. The Fire Department operates from three Fire Stations with 53 Firefighters and in 2012 responded to 855 Fire/Other and 4,495 EMS incidents for a total of 5,350 calls for service.

donutshopguy

So why don't you put the decision to the voting public? Place on the ballot options to solve this issue. For example list these options:

1. A specific tax levy to retain the firefighters.
2. Move $1 million dollars from the equipment fund to the general fund for salaries.
3. None of the above

This city belongs to the people let them decide.

MarbleheadNative

Unify!

Pages