Layoffs in city’s future

Layoffs must occur so Sandusky officials can offset a $906,000 deficit heading in 2014. Where would you make the cuts?
Andy Ouriel
Dec 17, 2013

 

Many, including city commissioners, realized the unfortunate reality during a recent finance meeting.

“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?”

Looming layoffs
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”

 

Comments

topcop1991

May sound like a broken record, but when is the city going to take a long hard look at getting rid of dead weight, i.e. City Manager Ard. She does nothing and make tons of salary. Start there!
Go ahead and lay off Fire and Police, but when you need emergency help that used to be minutes away, doesn't get there in time due to cutbacks, then it is on you!

Retiredfirefighter

Topcop i agree. they layoff cops and firefighters and something majors they have nobody to blame but themselves

Donegan

" police officers, firefighters, horticulturists, engineers, snow plow drivers"
Now I wonder which one of these jobs does not contribute to the safety and well being of the tax payers? Police officers? Nah they keep the peace. Fire fighters? The save citizens from burning buildings. Engineers build safe bridges and buildings and snow plow drivers keep the road clear. Horticulturalist, Hmm Not sure exactly how they are on the pay roll in the first place if we are going broke. But hey lets lay off firemen. At least you'll be able to look at the flowers in the park while your house burns down.

Man of the Republic

So the deficit is about 5.5% of the actual budget. Is it possible to take an all of the above approach? Try to trim enough fat from spending while slimming down the number of city employees and raising the revenue? Maybe, instead of cutting the budget by 5.5% this year, cut it by half this year and the remainder the next, supplementing the remaining deficit by dipping into the rainy day fund. It seems that if we are going to cut we ought to do so in such a way that we won't have to feel all the pain in just one or two areas.

AJ Oliver

Yup, we are in a pickle. It's hard to tell what "horticulture" includes since the city web site lists no such department. I will note, however, that a city that stops paying attention to quality of life issues is in trouble. And lets be clear on the cause of the problem - politicians who lack the courage or inclination to make the ONE PERCENT pay their fair share (they used to pay considerably more than they do now), especially at the state level. There is plenty of wealth out there - far more than in the 1950's for example - but it is no longer taxed.

Darkhorse

It looks like the budget has all been figured out already. When & how did we lose 2 full time engineers? $150,000 in parks and recreation sound like everyone in maintenance is getting laid off.

Good 2 B Me

Maybe Firelands Vending could possibly let them use that $260,000 that they scared Sandusky into spending to pave their road, to help pay these people.

gene44870

All I can say is if cuts are to made , Police and fire should be expanded not cut , unless you get the drug users as well as drug dealers stop what they are doing which we all know about .

Police and Fire is under staffed as it is . Leave the city as well as fire intact unless you want more crime in the city which we all know the city dont need

sandusky2012

wrong lets just tax the drug dealers.by the way wasnt there a police office whom had drugs in his locker without the cities knowledge?

UJagoff

Sandusky should go to a mayorial govt. And cut the City Manager! She hasn't earned her wages. The only thing I can figure is she has some real dirt on some people!

DEATHnTAXES

Various comments taken from the "Fire chief’s plan under fire" article.

**Consider a partial volunteer fire department.

**Consider combining the Fire Chief and Police Chief position into one safety Service Director.

**Even with added response time because of closing a fire station, response time will remain at levels accepted by the National Firefighters Association.

**The majority of fire calls are for EMS. Contract out EMS service.

**Sandusky has contracts with 5 area municipalities/townships for "mutual aid" response for fire emergencies.

**Sandusky is in financial turmoil because of runaway debt at the tune of $69 million plus.

**Industry, population and housing stock have declined significantly.

Personally, I'd like to know how many of the positions that have already been cut in the last 10 years came from within city hall. I bet not many.

Commenter

This is a great article about the situation:
http://www.sanduskyregister.com/...

Fireside

Kick the can down the road 2 more years and let Waddington fix it!

Fireside

Kick the can down the road 2 more years and let Waddington fix it!

OSUBuckeye59

As each of us can read on a daily basis, managing a federal, state, county or city budget in these times of decreased tax revenues is not easy. Regardless, there is always someone designated to tackle the tough issue of setting a budget and getting approval of same. For Sandusky, the responsibility of creating a Budget for the city falls on the shoulders of the City Manager. If I remember correctly, earlier this year Ms. Ard failed in her duty to provide a detailed balanced Budget to the Finance Committee and Commissioners.

If anything I've written here is incorrect, I humbly request for the corrections to be provided. But if what I've written is correct, I state that Ms. Ard has failed in one of her primary deliverables as the City Manager. The problem, though, is the summary performance feedback provided to Ms. Ard just last month is that she has been successful in her performance as City Manager. Given her failure in proposing a balanced budget, including where she would recommend reductions be taken to meet the reduced budget number, I still contend Ms. Ard has failed in meeting a key, primary deliverable in her City Manager role and thus the City Commissioners should seriously consider not only revising Ms. Ard's performance evaluation, but also seriously consider removing her from the position while in parallel seek an individual who will perform at least to expectations of the role of Sandusky City Manager.

AJ Oliver

OSU, I partly agree, but would note that we do not have a gevernment spending problem, we have a ONE PERCENT (that ducks out of taxes) problem.

Charger85

So which of the 1% are not paying their city taxes? Please enlighten us, oh wise one.

SamAdams

There are LOTS of people who "duck out of taxes." They do so via "loopholes" called "deductions." So, here's the REAL question for you: Precisely which deductions would YOU suggest be disallowed? Feel free to expand your answer to include those deductions you believe shouldn't be legal for corporations as well. I'll wait.

Charger85

There ought to be a ballot initiative to change the gov't to Council-Mayor style. No more paying $100,000+ to someone who isn't elected and isn't accountable to the people. If the City's chief executive isn't doing their job sufficiently then we should be able to fire him/her.

sandusky2012

Lets do the Obama Thingy and make police,fire and city officials all Part Time we can save thousands by not paying full time benefits and create jobs also because instead of one police officer we can have two . What is the amount the city pays full time employees?

sandusky2012

Whats wrong with the sheriffs department taking over city police and fire all the GOB? good ole booys

AJ Oliver

Without revenue, lay-offs are like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The problem will only continue to get worse until our country resembles Somalia (with apologies to East Africa - many of their problems are not of their own making). That's your choice: start taxing the well off again (me too, I guess), or its Somalia here we come.
I would like the city officials to respond to this point.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/3...

OSUBuckeye59

AJ Oliver, I can't provide a rebuttal to your statement in response to my previous posting as I don't know the facts or data supporting your argument.

What I do know is what is directly in front of the citizens, namely a rather dramatic failure by both the Commissioners in office the past 2 years and the City Manager. Both the Manager and Commissioners have known since early 2011 the $500k federal grant for the 6 full time firefighters would need to be covered at the end of this year, yet none of the aforementioned personnel prepared for it, instead simply waiting until the funding ran out to address it. And when the City Manager failed in a primary responsibility of her position to provide options and her recommended option for a balanced budget earlier this year, the active Commissioners at that time not only failed in holding the City Manager accountable, but compounded the problem by rating the Manager as being successful in a performance evaluation.

The City Manager is to be held accountable by the City Commissioners, and I would contend given the facts the Commissioners have not only failed in their duty, but failed spectacularly by finding the manager as successful in their documented summary review of her performance. I applaud Commissioner-elect Brady for publicly noting the failure in performance by the City Manager. Since the City Manager is not upholding her responsibility, the work now falls on the Commissioners and Finance Committee to complete the task of making the necessary reductions and approving a balanced budget. I would also again request the Commissioners to seriously consider revising their evaluation of Ms. Ard's performance. The easy decision would be to do nothing. The right decision would be to make the tough but needed changes.

JERRY from SANDUSKY

I believe upper management should surrender part of their wages they are all overpaid for the community we live in…

KURTje

JerryfromSand could not agree more! Nation-wide cuts need to include ALL, not some. Any organization that preaches teamwork should cut upper, mid & entry level management.

brutusthedog

I think all 6 grant funded firefighters should get laid off. Not the city's problem that the man in charge can't find a way to keep their jobs

OSUBuckeye59

Fire chief Paul Ricci did recommend $1 million be diverted from the equipment funding to instead pay for the 6 firefighters but this was rejected by the Commissioners. I will state again the City Manager and Commissioners all failed in their responsibility to address this earlier as they knew when they accepted the federal funding in early 2011 it would no longer be available after 2013 year-end.

SamAdams

I agree that that makes the most sense, at least from a fiscal stance. But it's not the fault of the "man in charge" alone. It's the fault of those who jumped up and down and shouted, "Ooooh, lookie, free money!" without forethought for the scheduled (and known well in advance) time the money spigot would stop flowing.

Curley

My feeling is you don't layoff the Safety Forces. The cuts should be may else where. If the newly elected commissioners want to layoff they should start to look at the City Manager, and the people in the City Building. The safety forces protect the citizens and save their houses or their loved ones from either theft or fire. If they close #3 and #7 and they have to call in Perkins or Margaretta for fire or a amubulance run, and if the houses either are lost to fire or someone does not make it because of a illness or heart attack and they die the city will have a lawsuit on their hands immediately. Maybe the new commissioners had better way this opinion.

OSUBuckeye59

How dire was the situation in early 2011 when the federal funds were accepted to hire the 6 firefighters? Someone in city government should be comparing population densities, number of calls, response times and the like prior to hiring of the 6 firefighters vs. today. I'm not advocating laying off the 6 firefighters simply because the federal funding has gone away, but since the City Manager and Commissioners failed to start addressing this eventual shortfall in funding as soon as the first paychecks went out in 2011, there needs to be options identified and analysis conducted to determine impacts of laying off as few as 1 firefighter and as many as 6.

Retiredfirefighter

In the 2 years those 6 firefighters have been on the number of calls has increased. I have worked for a private ems company and the city should never contract that out. Because when they get busy somewhere else they will pull the ambulances covering the city to cover someplace else and once again the city will not have ems service. We need to get rid of the city manager. She has proven to be ineffective. Maybe the city commission should learn from the township and put a fire and police levy on. That would pass faster then a city income tax that goes right into the general fund. You give chief ricci the money to work and he will work a tight department.

Curley

Maybe we should have a county wide Fire Dept/EMS including Sandusky, Perkins and Margaretta with the oldest one being Fire Chies Paul Ricci, then Chief Wholever and Chief Mohr, and put a fire levy on for Sandusky, Perkins and Margaretta. Then they all could respond when someones needs help.

DEATHnTAXES

Curley Sandusky already has the arrangement you mention it's called "mutual aid" with 5 surrounding communities.