“I can’t believe that no one saw this coming,” commissioner-elect Dick Brady said. “Now, we are forced into making really painful cuts in our budget”
Some city officials previously explored raising taxes or spending down Sandusky’s $4 million surplus.
But shedding staffing levels somewhere — no one’s safe, including police officers, firefighters, horticulturists, engineers, snow plow drivers and others — is absolutely necessary to create a break-even bottom line by March, various officials said. Burning cash
Officials previously said the deficit totaled about $1 million in the everyday operating budget, funding services such as police and fire.
But the amount now equals about $906,000 in a projected $16.3 million budget, deriving from:
• Almost $406,000 in cuts from estate taxes and local government funds, major income sources local governments rely upon.
• About $500,000 needed to cover six fulltime firefighter salaries. A federal grant, obtained in 2011, maintained full-time fire staffing levels at 53. But the grant recently expired, and commissioners never stockpiled money in past years to cover these salaries once funds dried up.
Existing fire funds are currently covering these six salaries.
A week ago, Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci proposed swapping out $1 million from a fire vehicle and equipment budget into payroll in hopes of preserving all six positions in 2014 and 2015.
Commissioners, however, balked at the request, opting to wait until January — when three new elected officials start their fouryear terms — to make a decision regarding Ricci’s request.
Ricci threatened a smaller fire staff would increase response times.
Additionally, 47 full-time members could mean the fire stations by Cedar Point and Toft Dairy either close during certain hours or altogether shut down.
But axing six full-time firefighter positions is a necessary sacrifice to ensure a balanced budget by March, Sandusky finance director Hank Solowiej said.
“My suggestion would be to lay off the six employees,” Solowiej said. “There is no money”
Shifting funds from one fire account to another would create a larger deficit, Solowiej said.
If Ricci’s plan is approved, another $500,000 per year in payroll would be added to the budget without any income sources to match this expense.
Under Ricci’s plan, Sandusky’s deficit would balloon to $1.4 million, Solowiej said. “We’d be robbing Peter to pay Paul” Brady said. “What happens if we have a failure of equipment, and we can’t spend the money that we need but is no longer there?”
Layoffs are nothing new to city workers.
Case in point: Sandusky’s workforce has decreased 25 percent in the past decade, from 280 in 2004 to roughly 209 today.
“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” commissioner-elect Dennis Murray Jr. said. “I wish we didn’t have to (make layoffs), but we are going to have to do it”
Where the new batch of cuts come from is not known today.
But someone — namely city manager Nicole Ard, the official ultimately responsible for budget preparations — should’ve accounted for this doomsday scenario, Brady said.
Instead, Brady argued, she ignored the problems and passed off her responsibilities onto others in hopes they’d figure it out.
Brady and Murray recently asked for a punch list of items to possibly cut from the budget.
But Ard, the city’s highest-paid employee at about $127,000 a year, neglected to provide such a document, Brady said.
“I’m amazed at the lack of planning that has gone into this budget process,” Brady said. “I am disappointed in the lack of effort from her. The finance committee is disappointed. Our current administration
Making ends meet
Sandusky finance director Hank Solowiej proposed trimming the following items from the budget to help offset a $906,000 deficit:
• $500,000: By laying off six full-time firefighters hired almost three years ago. A $1 million federal grant paid for these salaries since early 2011.
• $150,000: Reduce parks and recreation subsidy.
• $130,000: Leave two full-time vacancies unfilled in the engineer’s department.
To offset the remaining $126,000 or so, city officials must make other cuts or find income sources. The $16.3 million budget must be balanced by March.
Additional cuts would need to be made, or other income sources would need to be created, to completely offset the deficit by March.
Sandusky officials plan to discuss the budget pinch during a special meeting at 5 p.m. today in City Hall.
“We’re going to continue to fund a budget that we don’t have money for?” Brady asked. “How irresponsible is that? I hate when people soft-pedal this issue because it’s urgent”