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.
To help negate a $1.1 million shortfall, Sandusky city commissioners made various cuts to the fire department, including:
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.
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:
•Thursday: Sandusky Transit and public transportation
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”