Firefighters to be laid off

City commission balances budget
Andy Ouriel
Feb 25, 2014
An eerie chill saturated the commission chambers inside City Hall on Monday as elected officials authorized substantial cuts to Sandusky’s fire operations.

City commissioners begrudgingly voted 6-0 to approve a $16.3 million everyday operating budget for 2014, which included eliminating four fulltime fire positions and closing a fire station for six months.

Watch the entire meeting in the player below

Before approving the budget that includes other cuts, commissioners faced a $1.1 million shortfall with expenses surpassing revenue.    

Municipal governments, such as Sandusky, must have a balanced budget.

The biggest reductions occurred in fire operations, where not enough revenue existed today to maintain all 53 full-time staffing positions.

At a glance
To help negate a $1.1 million shortfall, Sandusky city commissioners made various cuts to the fire department, including:
•Slashing full-time staffing levels from 53 today to 49 by May.
•Closing Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road near Toft Dairy from May to October, prolonging response times for residents on Sandusky’s west side.
•Scaling back on overtime, training and taxpayer-funded physicals.

In 2011, fire commanders obtained a $1 million federal grant, ensuring 53 full-time employees remained on staff for about three years.

But during this time, city officials — for whatever reason — never stashed away funds to maintain these positions once the grant expired this past December. Enough funds remain to keep 53 full-time fire slots until May.

Commissioners ultimately decided to cut four of these positions to balance their budget.

Follow the money
The Register takes an in-depth look at Sandusky’s $16.3 million operating budget this week and tells readers where the money’s spent:
•Wednesday: Horticultural and greenhouse operations
•Thursday: Sandusky Transit and public transportation
•Friday: Recreational assets n Saturday: Paving, plowing and patching up streets.
•Sunday: Dealing with a downsized fire department
•Monday: Cemetery services

For weeks, Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci and union personnel offered several other revenuegenerating and cost-cutting measures to avoid layoffs.

Before cuts occurred, union personnel even agreed to various concessions, including forgoing taxpayer-funded physicals, training opportunities and overtime payouts.

But it wasn’t enough.

In total, city commissioners slashed about $186,000 in fire expenses, lowering the department’s budget to $4.5 million in 2014.

The cuts included a $136,000 reduction eliminating four fulltime fire positions, forcing three firefighters out of their jobs by May. The fourth position is currently empty.

“It’s disappointing” Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci said. “We knew this day was coming”

Furthermore, city officials approved shutting down Sandusky Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road near Toft Dairy from May to October, likely prolonging response times for anyone needing emergency assistance on the city’s west side.

“We will get to any emergency one way or another — but it will just take longer,” said Sandusky firefighter Ryan Brotherton, who’s also the department’s union vice president. “If we can’t get to an emergency in a timely fashion, it’s going to be a big problem and people will suffer, hurt and feel loss”

The fire department’s scaling back at a time when community members need them more than ever.

Case in point: Calls for ambulance and fire runs have steadily increased over the past few years, peaking to 5,400 calls in 2013 — the most since the early 2000s.

No commissioner seemed happy about the cuts.

“Tonight marks the bottoming out for Sandusky,” said Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr., who’s spearheaded budget discussions and decisions since entering office in January. “We need to find additional revenues going forward. Continuing to cut is just not an option for the city”

Many residents attending the meeting voiced support for a levy if it meant replenishing and maintaining fire staffing levels and services provided.

“It’s worth it to me and my family to pay a bit more (through a levy) to get help,” Bardshar Road resident Chris Sims said.

Murray, who’s hosted town hall-style meetings in past weeks informing community members about Sandusky’s financial challenges and seeking strategies to counter them, said he’s willing to discuss any reasonable options for finding additional income sources.

“I don’t know what the answers are,” Murray said. “It’s your town. You tell us”

Comments

SamAdams

The problem is that a lot of us HAVE let them know how we wish additional funding to be accumulated. It's called an admissions tax increase. Although I'll give the current Commission kudos for balancing the budget and making tough decisions to do it, I'm more than a little dismayed at the attitude toward FIXING the shortfall.

We've repeatedly suggested raising the admissions tax to be more in line with the vast majority of other attractions (while noting the local admissions tax hasn't been raised in a very, very long time). What do we hear? Crickets. We've repeatedly said an income tax increase isn't affordable for many, and will make the City LESS attractive to working residents and to businesses. What do we hear? "Oh, let's put an income tax increase on the ballot!"

Do any of the City Commissioners read these comments? If so, I'd like to hear from each and every one of you on these pages with an explanation as to why you're not listening to the people you supposedly represent. I won't hold my breath.

DGMutley

Thank God we didn't have to touch that rainy day fund!

reader

The fact remains other tourist destination cities charge admissions tax rates of 8% and higher.

Bogtrotter

It's time for the firefighters to get behind an increase in the admissions tax to 8%. An additional $4 million in revenue every year would cover those positions. It's also time for the commissioners to actually discuss the admissions tax. So far, they have inexplicably been limited to discussing raising the income tax, as if there were no other possible source of revenue for the city. If they aren't willing to explore all possible sources of additional revenue, they need to explain why. And if Murray is the only one who is allowed to have an idea, the other commissioners should resign and give their pay back to the city, because there is no point in paying 7 people when only one of them does all of the thinking and speaking.

Retiredfirefighter

bogtrotter murray wont bring up the admissions tax increase. His firm represents cedar point and or cedar fair. so the admissions tax increase will never happen as long as he is a city comissioner.

donutsh0pguy

Retired, I think if we could get the others to agree to admission tax increase of .25% a year, every year over the next 12 years. first year it will be like 14 cents added to the ticket pretty much half the amount gas goes up in one day.

ladydye_5

Disney just raised the rate for a ticket by $4 ....wasn't that big of a deal.

coasterfan

Yes, they did. A company raking in billions of dollars of profits behaved just as you would expect the 1% to behave: they dug a little deeper.... into the pockets of others.

Fromthe419

I would think you would be in favor of a raise in the admission fee, since out of town folk come here and use our collective infrastructure, shouldn't they pay their fair-share for the use of said resources. I highly doubt anyone would notice a 50 cent per ticket increase, it would save these firemen's jobs.

sandusky2012

lets start charging for parking at city hall

Truth or Dare

Timed the drive from the Market St. Fire House to my parents on the west end of town. Took 7 minutes, that's traveling the speed limit, getting stopped by 2 lights and bar NO TRAINS! Don't forget, the west end still gets cut-off on W. Monroe St. even with a new overpass. Time from their home to the Venice Rd. station, 1.5 minutes, and that was w/a stop at the red light @ Venice, making a r turn. JUST A MATTER OF MIUNTES!

The red-headed step-child get's the brunt of the punishment, as usual. Won't whine about how much longer it'll take to get to my elderly 80 & 84 yr. old parents home should there be an emergency. Will keep Mr. Stookey's comments in mind. Won't whine about the time to get to my house, of which now sits nestled in a cut-off from a major artery/main-road access area. A neighborhood which has seen an uptick in home invasions, at least 4 in the past 7 months, and a downtick in LE cruising through. Except for the one cruising through around 9 a.m., about 5 hrs. before our next-door neighbor came home to find her home was broken into the previous night, through the back door not 50 ft. away from ours.

I have a question regarding a petition to raise the Adm. Tax being started, should anyone be able to answer. Does the City Commission first need to vote to change the City Charter in order to even be able to petition for it to go on the ballot for a vote?

slightthroat212

I would think any tax on citizens would have to be placed on a ballot before it would be done. They couldn't just tax you could they?

I would think a petition on raising this tax on Cedar Point needs to be started quickly and be presented at the next meeting if you want action before the board decides to put a tax on the November ballot to tax the citizens....just a guess. So don't wait around, get busy.

BEHAPPY

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING??????!!! ARE YOU~CITY COMMISSIONERS DELIBERATELY TRYING TO RUIN THIS CITY??? YOU HAVEN'T CHASED OFF ENOUGH OF THE DECENT CITIZENS? LOOKS LIKE I WILL BE NEXT TO PUT MY HOUSE UP FOR SALE SO SOMEONE~MAYBE WT REALITY~CAN BUY IT AND RENT IT OUT TO TRASH UNTIL IT FALLS TO HE GROUND! CAN YOU PLEASE TELL ME ANY SERVICES THAT THIS CITY DOES FOR THE CITIZENS ANYMORE?! N-O-N-E!! YOU'RE ALL CRAZY JUST LIKE THE PEOPLE RUNNING THIS COUNTRY! RUNNING IT INTO THE GROUND THAT IS! ONE MORE THING~~~~~WHY IN GOD'S NAME WOULD THE CITY SELL A HOME THAT WAS CONDEMNED? SANDUSKY ISN'T TRASHY ENOUGH FOR YOU YET?!!! WAKE THE HE!! UP!!!! MAKES ME SICK TO SEE WHAT YOU ARE DOING TO THIS TOWN!

slightthroat212

If you feel this strongly, then you should run for office and get things straightened around for everyone who feels as you do. That is the ONLY way to get things right again.

Stop It

Yelling and screaming in a comment section does wonders.

coasterfan

Is it just me, or does anyone else think BEHAPPY is the least happy person in this discussion?

starryeyes83

Nah, they're just pissed and fed up. And hey, capitals work wonders for getting a higher- ups' attention , provided they read any of these threads at all.

BEHAPPY

Get rid of some that are sitting behind desks and KEEP the PEOPLE WE NEED!

coasterfan

That's a simplistic view. Just because they sit behind a desk doesn't make them unimportant. It's a city of almost 30,000, and it won't run by itself, and the people who sit behind desks are the ones who pay the bills and keep it running.

What you really need is enough money to pay for everything the city needs, so you won't be faced with stupid choices like whether you want to have fire protection. Sorry folks, but unless Sandusky wins the lottery, the only way to make that happen is for us all to pay a little more in taxes. Unless you think that Kasich is going to do a 180-degree turn and actually provide more funding for local communities...

SamAdams

Why do you favor an income tax increase over an admissions tax increase? I'm convinced the admissions tax is the best way to go. Is there some drawback to the admissions tax increase or benefit to an income tax increase I'm missing?

Fibber Mcgee

which included eliminating four fulltime fire positions and closing a fire station for six months. Is that both for 6 months? I don't think Cedar Point is going to hurt if we are 4 members short. Volunteer fire service?

sandman312

A few suggestions...

1. Raise admission tax.
2. Cedar Point could be mandated to have more than 2 firefighters working with just one outdated truck or SFD should start charging ALL actual costs accrued whenever they are called to the park. If Cedar Point had adequate staffing, then station 3 could be closed intermittently (ex: Mon-Thu) but still be open on busy weekends when hotels are full and traffic crashes increase.
3. The above idea would also allow Station 7 to remain open year-round as they serve RESIDENTS not tourists.
4. Establish a volunteer corp of Firefighters that could provide additonal coverage on short notice, during busy periods. They could also go staff a station when SFD is on a major call or out of the city on a mutual aid call.
5. SFD could require nursing homes to have EMS contracts in place for calls that might require an ambulance, but are not necessarily an "emergency". This would improve SFD response times city-wide for 911 calls if a private EMS agency handled the "routine transport" nursing home runs.

Retiredfirefighter

Sandman312 your number 2 is partially correct and wrong at the same time. Yes cedar point does only have 2 firefighters on duty. Their equipment is no longer outdated. They retired old cp-15 which was a ford 9000 fire truck. The two ambulances and engine they have now are old sandusky fire units. So they are not completely outdated. They are still required to pass certain test to remain insurable.

BEHAPPY

Yes, pissed is right~COASTERFAN~since you called me out~I never said we did not need people to run the city or unimportant~just not so many! MANY desk jobs everywhere~too many~I would like to have LE and Firefighters, I happen to appreciate and need them. I bet you do not even live in this city anymore~you probably ran......................

sugar

Government on all Levels is too big. No more taxes! I refuse to keep handing over my money using fear based rationale. I will live with a slower response time, or maybe not.

Retiredfirefighter

Sugar i hope none of your family get sick and need a ambulance from sandusky fire and it is not available because our city commissioners closed station 7. Yes government is to big but sometimes big is not always bad like when it comes to police or fire.

KURTje

Sad truth is we are broke. Till jobs that pay wages appear expect more cuts on services.

Dr. Information

Knee jerk reaction. Service will continue and nothing will be felt.

Retiredfirefighter

Dr. Information unfortunately you are very wrong on that statement. Which means you are not a real doctor you fool. Some body will die from these cuts.

Fibber Mcgee

Spoken like a true firefighter. Agree with the DR. we won't notice the change.

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