City struggles with budget, layoffs

Firefighters could face setbacks in 2014.
Andy Ouriel
Dec 30, 2013
The burning question in Sandusky these days: Can the city afford to keep six full-time firefighter positions?

Nobody knows at this point.

The mystery stems from a $1 million federal grant funding six full-time firefighter positions expiring earlier this month.

From 2011 until earlier this month, the grant ensured 53 full-time slots for Sandusky firefighters.

Despite the grant expiring, all 53 employees still remain on the city’s payroll. Local taxpayer funds are fronting all firefighter salaries right now.

But that arrangement can’t continue for long, considering Sandusky’s shaky financial outlook.

The city’s deficit — where year-end spending surpasses income levels — totals $1.1 million heading into 2014. This includes a shortfall in firefighter salaries.

City commissioners recently unveiled a budget proposal eliminating the six unfunded firefighter jobs to offset Sandusky’s budget shortfall.

But all six positions likely would be retained if an outside funding source can be found.

Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci recently informed commissioners he might be able to obtain about $177,000 in federal funding to keep the six firefighters. But these funds would only cover the six salaries until May, however, without an infusion of other money.

It’s not even a guarantee Ricci will obtain the $177,000.

“It does not appear anyone sees the urgency of this,” commissioner Dick Brady said. “Every day that we continue to fund any type of expenses that we don’t have the money for is a disservice to this community”

Budget outlool
Municipal governments, such as Sandusky, must have a balanced budget, where income levels either match or exceed expenses.

A $1.1 million shortfall primarily occurred from this grant expiring coupled with extreme losses in both estate taxes and local government funds — major funding sources for Sandusky’s government.

City commissioners must approve a tentative $16.3 million budget by March.

Before then, however, they must cut at least $1.1 million worth of expenses to balance a budget.

Many officials agreed layoffs must occur in hopes of offsetting a deficit. Payroll accounts for up to 80 percent of the city’s total budget.

Sandusky city commissioners agreed on a working model to reduce a $1.1 million deficit:

• $500,000: Layoff six firefighters funded by a federal grant. This funding expired earlier this month.
• $200,000: Increase the amount of money annually transferred from a fire equipment and vehicle account into the budget. The amount would increase from $150,000 to $350,000.
• $200,000: Swap this amount from the city’s savings, or reserves, account, totaling $3.9 million today, into the budget. Officials must keep enough cash on hand in case of emergencies. A strong surplus also increases Sandusky’s bond rating, good for borrowing money at lower interest rates when pursuing construction projects.
• $70,000: Eliminate one full-time police position.
• $130,000: Various cuts throughout city departments, determined by city manager Nicole Ard.

Sandusky police Chief John Orzech and fire Chief Paul Ricci argued cases against laying off police officers and firefighters.

Commissioners reasoned with them, giving both officials about a month to examine the budget, talk with union personnel and suggest a way to make necessary cuts without layoff.

At stake: Sandusky fire cuts
Sandusky’s full-time fire staff could drop from 53 to 47 if they can’t find funds to keep six positions.

Among the possible fallouts from a smaller staff:

• Losing six people equates to two w fewer people working on each shift in the e three city-based e fire stations. This could mean reductions in service and response.

Sandusky fire receives about 5,300 emergency calls a year, with 75 percent devoted for ambulance runs and 25 percent for fire.

• Plunging departmental morale.

• Neglecting non-emergency activities, such as volunteer opportunities and community events.

• Closing Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road near 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-bases.

Comments

gene44870

I dont care what its going to take to keep all fire and police , its important to the people that have voted you people in office keep the jobs and in some cases increase them .Crime in my opionon is at a all time high around the country and the tax payers as well as residents of Sandusky has the right to police and fire protection .We are not talking what is the easest out for city goverment in the quest to balance the budget . If one life is lost due to the long response time of police and fire , Its to much and a falure to due what is in the best intrest of the city as a whole .
I urge the city to go back to the table and try and come up with a plan that leaves the police and fire out of it .This is a matter of life and death and should not be taken lightly .
Police as well as fire should be the number one priority .Live count on it as well as deserve it .I heard or read somewhere that erie county as surpasted the national averge for murders and rape , not to mention drugs .This is something that should not be taken lightly when tring to balance the budget .
Just remember that the life the police or fire may save sometime might be one of you or one of your family members . You never know when someone is going to have a heart attack or a stroke or are in a accident and need help right now .You cant tell your heart atteck not to come because the fire dept is busy on another call . The faster the fire dept arrives and begins treatment the better chances of serviving it .And thats where the fire dept needs to be able to handle the call as fast as possiable

Curley

GENE44870 I agree with you 100% if the their house or someone has a heart attack Mr. Brady and Mr. Murray will be the first ones to complain. My opinion is cut the fat in other parts of the city what about the offices lay some people off and possibly get rid of Ms Ard she doesn't seem to be doing anything. Every time we hire a city manager from out of the city something goes wrong here we go again. When it comes time for hiring a city manager promote from within the city.

Darkhorse

It is amazing what the city can do when they need to cut personnel. Maybe the city doesn't really need to support three stations after all.

ladydye_5

Remember that when your house is burning.

ladydye_5

With crime the way it is in Sandusky, I would think losing a police officer would be the last thing they would want to do.

Justwow

Good luck Sand town. These are the last people you better layoff. Get a grip fast.

BEHAPPY

Wake up!!! I would hope we do not lose not ONE single Firefighter or Police Officer! We need all that we can get!! Start looking at the BIG SHOTS and let the people we NEED do their jobs!!!!

donutshopguy

BEHAPPY,

Are you talking BIG SHOTS within the police and fire departments? The bureaucrats within those departments such as captains, lieutenants and assistant chiefs ?

Just trying to clarify your thought.

OSUBuckeye59

Since the city can't go back in time to when the 6 firefighters were hired w/federal funding, only this time devising a plan to insure there would be funding to replace the fed funding, of course the hard decisions will now need to be made that should've been made long ago when there were more options.

As part of the process to determine where cuts could be made, I'd like to see crime & emergency call data for the past 10 years. Has crime increased, decreased or stayed the same? Have emergency calls, fire vs. ambulance, increased, decreased or stayed the same?

What's interesting to note is per the article, 75% of the emergency calls were for ambulance runs. Does this mean there was not a fire event related with these calls? These calls were strictly for ER personnel assistance? If yes, I would suggest reviewing the data on just the ambulance calls alone to categorize in terms of what type of ambulance calls. How many were to nursing home and retirement centers? If, for example, a large percentage of those calls, say over 50%, were to these facilities, one option to potentially explore would be an idea of possibly billing those facilities for the calls.

In the immediate term, let's look at the data to help make an informed determination of where cuts could be made. For the longer term, I'd advise the City Manager and Commission to develop a strategic plan on how to insure adequate funding is made available moving forward to prevent these "catch and dive" scenarios that do nothing but raise tempers.

Nor'easter

Raise the admissions tax to 8% and start rebuilding.

Dr. Information

Make due with less. Or is that to hard?

BEHAPPY

@ Dr. Information~~~~~ I know for a FACT that "make due with less" has been going on for quite some time now! How about we start at the TOP for a change!? The hands on people are the people NEEDED no matter where you go~we could do with LESS at the TOP no matter where you go! Or is that *too* hard?

DEATHnTAXES

How did Sandusky fare before the grant was received for the 6 extra firefighters?

Has the powers that be looked into a partial volunteer fire department? (90 of US fire departments are partial/total volunteer)

Comrade Boose

Wow genius what a great idea partial volunteers or all volunteers.

Except I own a business say a law firm or electrical contractor, do I let my people go to respond on a fire or ambulance call?

Magic eight ball says HIGHLY UNLIKELY!

In the future please put more thoughts into your post instead of just spouting things off.

OSUBuckeye59

Many cities have partial or full volunteer fire departments. Some offer a small amount of pay. Some offer no pay. All almost always provide free training plus insurance when out on a call. Many employers in towns with volunteers have agreements with the volunteers concerning releasing them to respond to calls.

Partial or full volunteer fire departments work very well in a community. Some of the volunteers provide their assistance out of a sense of duty and commitment. Others such as younger men and women, provide assistance as a means to one day become a paid firefighter in towns that do hire and pay full-time firefighters. There are many small towns throughout the country that would have no firefighters were it not for volunteers.

The suggestion of looking into volunteer firefighters as one option is actually a good one.

Comrade Boose

And yet here we go again someone else just throwing ideas out without doing any research. Here is where I come in for you with what actually happens in the real world(see articles below). Also to answer your second part of your statement. Sandusky, Lorain, Cleveland, Elyria and other cities is where they come to work full-time

PENN TOWNSHIP, Pa. — It took 26 fire companies from three counties last year to fight the fire at Dino's Grille, a two-story wood structure that ignited on a hot Tuesday morning in this town outside Harrisburg. The local volunteer chief still fumes just thinking about it. When Monte Supko arrived at the scene, he signaled other volunteer departments in the area for help. He needed firefighters. But what he got, mostly, was firetrucks — many with only one or two people aboard.

By the time sufficient manpower was assembled and the fire extinguished, Dino's was a smoking wreck. "A parade of half-million dollar firetrucks didn't help much," he says. "I got mad, because we've waited so long to address the problem."

The problem is this: The volunteer fire company, an institution that dates to Ben Franklin, is slowly going the way of the horse-drawn pumper.

EAGAN, Minn. — Volunteerism might be up during a down economy, but one group that heavily relies on donated time is suffering: fire departments.

Increased training requirements, more duties, squeezed family lives and less-flexible employers have all contributed to a decrease in the number of people willing to drop everything and pick up a hose, local fire chiefs say.

Recruitment is a problem for some departments, but a more common complaint is that it's hard to keep people once they've joined.

OSUBuckeye59

I keep trying to post but keep tripping an SR Spam filter.

will try again later.

OSUBuckeye59

Been trying to post but keep getting the "Spam filter" message. Could be one or more of the links I've copied are triggering it.

According to FEMA (removed the link as it may be the problem causing the Spam filter to be tripped), 71% of the national fire departments are volunteer.

There's another website, lovefd.org, that reports "Of the total 26,354 fire departments in the country, 19,224 are all volunteer; 3,845 are mostly volunteer; 1,407 are mostly career; and 1,878 are all career."

I did find on clevelandfd.com that "The number of Volunteer Firefighters in the United States has declined 5-10% since 1983." But with over 70% of all US fire departments being volunteer, a 5-10% decline over the past 30 years is not statistically significant.

Bottom line is the vast majority of fire departments in the US are still very much volunteer staffed. That's as real as it gets.

Comrade Boose

Look Simpleton, I can spend all day going back and forth with you about volunteer vs career firefighter and you can post your stats on how many departments are volunteer. We get it there are a lot of volunteer departments, but they don't work in every situation. It's simple math.
volunteer = slower response time
slower response time = higher property loss and higher loss of life.
paid career = staff on duty
volunteer = ??
?? is a variable
variable number one does Mr. Murray let me leave this case to respond to OSU class of 59 house fire?

You do the math, probably not.(time = money, money = time)

Variable number two OSU class of 59 has a heart attack does Brady Electric let an employee leave the job site to respond.
Sure he does as soon as Dick Brady walks on the moon he does.
So that is todays math problem. Please don't waste the readers time with silly stats.

OSUBuckeye59

For those of us responsible for budget forecasting and subsequent execution, when we have to reduce a budget, we look at all potential options to do so. A key part of that process is looking at real data and figures, but also at key learnings from other organizations & businesses.

The data overwhelmingly shows the majority of fire departments across the country have volunteers. There's no doubt plenty of key learnings on how to successfully deploy a volunteer department to best optimize response time. One example I read is where volunteers actually stay at a fire station for a 4+ hour shifts to be immediately available when a call comes in. So there are excellent examples of cities/communities having figured out how best to work within the parameters given them.

Sandusky city officials need to consider, today, several options to live within a reduced budget. The irrefutable data clearly shows one valid option to seriously consider is a partial volunteer firefighting staff. Just because one person or a few people don't like that idea doesn't mean it's wrong, it means this one person or these few people are so firmly rooted in their belief system they can't begin to consider any option opposing their rigid beliefs. "Data be damned!", he/they say. Closed minds are not helpful. That's not a good way to manage a city or budget or business.

Comrade Boose

Thanks Captain Data all you have brought to the table with your open mind is that a lot of departments are volunteer in the United States.

Well you get what you pay for. Last time I looked the city had a well educated/trained department of firefighters that are there 24/7 year round for what ever emergency arises. Now you want to bring in part volunteers that may or may not show up. Oh wait seeing that most of the people in the area work two jobs lets ask them to work a four or plus hour shifts, but that's not all we also need you to train so you are ready to respond to 5,500 calls a year.

Here is some more Data for you
1. A Fire doubles in size every two minutes
2. The brain can go without Oxygen for five minutes before serious damage.
3. Average response time volunteer department 9 minutes.
4. your odds of survival not so good.

T. A. Schwanger

###

@OSU

Well said. The closed mindedness and the inability to look outside the box is exactly why things are the way they are in Sandusky.

From what I'm reading in your posts, you're not suggesting we go to a 100% volunteer FD.

Rather than rolling up the sleeves to find viable solutions or other means to an end, let's continue to "feed the pig" by asking for tax increases in a community where, as Comrade Booze states, people are working two or three jobs or not working at all.

Speaking of comparisons, Eagan Minnesota has 65,000 residents, 33 square miles and is Minnesota's 8th largest city--hardly comparable in size to Sandusky

Retiredfirefighter

T. A. Schwanger just shut up. we know you dont care about this city you right wing nut bag.

Comrade Boose

As Sandusky is hardly comparable to Perkins, Huron or Margaretta. As for feeding the pig Sandusky Fire used to be 57 firefighters now down to 53 according to Chief Ricci soon to be down to 47. Also Totally. Against. (Progress) Schwanger were you not the one against the city selling city hall property a few years back? Now there was a viable solution sell the property to be developed.

Retiredfirefighter

except yutz in a city our size a all volunteer department would not work.

donutshopguy

Everyone expects the government to solve all their problems. More police, more firefighters, more entitlement.

Sorry folks, you are the government. You want more, pay for it. It just take a simple vote by the general public.

Retiredfirefighter

you want to keep police but cut firefighters. Hmmm i wonder if you are a cop. If the fire department loses 6 guys i think the police should also lose 6 and i dont mean part timers. I'm talking about 6 full time cops.

Fireside

What percentage of fire calls are for EMS? Solution: North Central EMS. Most of Erie County use them now! Staff the main station and let NCEMS handle all ems calls.

Comrade Boose

North Central provides one service EMS. SFD provides multiple services not just EMS. I have also heard on the scanner where SFD squads have been dispatched numerous times this year to help North Central, never once have I heard it the other way around. If the service provided is good why change it.

Retiredfirefighter

And what happens when they get busy and decide to pull one if not all 3 squads covering the city to protect their other areas? you get crews who have no idea where they are at in the city. Dont tell me north central does not pull their units. I know they do and have seen them do it. With the city at its current staffing with the fire department you get crews who know where they are going and what the hell they are doing to.

Fireside

pulling the crews, not knowing the area....why do other parts of Erie County contract with them ? MONEY. Our system is not cost effective and the city is looking for the solution. North Central is a PROVEN solution.

Comrade Boose

It's not a proven system when
1. They have to call SFD for lift assist.
2. They are a one trick pony EMS only

OSUBuckeye59

When the original Federal funding was provided to hire 6 Firefighters, had the City Manager and Commissioners immediately started the process of devising a long-term funding solution to replace the federal funds once they were no longer available, there wouldn't be the current problem of the Manager and Commissioners having to race to figure out what to do.

But what now must happen is options will (or should) be proffered and a final decision be made. Fire Chief Ricci has offered a solution of money to be transferred out of the equipment & vehicle budget to pay for keeping the 6 firefighters. The questions to be asked of this solution are; What is the potential risk to current & future equipment & vehicles should these funds no longer be available? Is this sustainable in the longer term? Will these funds continue to be available in the future? Another suggested solution was consideration of volunteer firefighters. One positive for this solution would be Sandusky being able to replace some/all of the 6 firefighters with unpaid yet trained firefighters. But there are, of course, multiple negatives with this solution. One negative as has been pointed out is the average response time for a volunteer department is 9 minutes, thereby putting at risk the probability of lives being saved in time. A counter to that is if the full-time paid firefighting force is reduced yet call volume is maintained or increased, having no one available, including trained volunteers to go on a call because all resources are consumed on other calls means a zero probability of lives being saved. But a counterpoint to this would be that if the City chose to go the route of volunteer fire personnel for the first time, with "hiring" and training a few personnel turning into a successful solution, it could potentially lead to the City believing they could easily replace full-time firefighters in the future with volunteers. A worrisome scenario, to be sure.

It truly is unfortunate City Leaders did not adequately prepare for the $1.1 million deficit. And the current situation doesn't bode well for confidence in the City Manager and Commissioners insuring this scenario isn't repeated next year. I, for one, would like to see a long-term strategic plan to increase future revenue income for the City.

Common Sense

Interesting use of words .....
"Neglecting non-emergency activities, such as volunteer opportunities and community events". This occurs naturally when there are only so many workers and the caseload does not drop. How is this neglect?????
"Plunging department morale". This, too, occurs everywhere there is a drop in workers.
Is there anyone in the city government that bothered to keep an eye on this item in the financial budget? Is anyone in the city government able to determine the dollar needs of the city and then how to finance it?

KURTje

TASchwanger's post is 100%. "Like a good neighbor state farm is there."