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

OnlyfoolsAssume

I feel bad if something happens to someone on the west side of town because of this. Especially because the west is still primarily tax payers who are funding these departments to begin with...

deertracker

Agreed, also there's lots of elderly residents on that side of town

donutsh0pguy

I think it is time for the commissioners to look at raising the admissions tax .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. Come on people who is with me on this one it is outside the box.

donutsh0pguy

I think it is time for the commissioners to look at raising the admissions tax .25% a year, every year over the next 12 years. first year it will be like 14 cents add to the ticket pretty much half the amount gas goes up in one day. Come on people who is with me on this one it is outside the box.

Man of the Republic

We are editorializing a little bit aren't we?

Justme...

Is this your first day?

Man of the Republic

I suppose my comment was a shot at humor. Either way, no this isn't, and yes the editorializing happens too much.

DGMutley

Watch the meeting. Grimm.

dorothy gale

Fire the city manager and divide her salary between the 4 who lost their jobs. I know it would only be around 25,000 apiece but it is better than NOTHING. This city needs every single one of its first responders!

bigdad1205

All a ploy to push their income tax hike through. Rather than raise the admission tax increase and have the tourist pay it.

Julie R.

Agree.

DGMutley

Agree. An income tax hike is the most unfair of all the options because it taxes W-2 income while those who benefit the most--the establishment, the property owners--skate.

samiam

Two nursing homes, four mobile home parks, lots of businesses and a school all on the west end. Perhaps they should have closed #3 instead of #7.

DGMutley

Can't. What happens if Cedar Point needs assistance? 3 million + visitors from May-Oct.

samiam

In other words, put the tourists ahead of the residents? Close #3 until CP raises the admission tax.

Warning to west end residents...don't get sick, have a fire or a home break in between May and Oct. Signed, your city commissioners.

Retiredfirefighter

samiam i live in the west end with my elderly parents. If something should happen to either one of them between may and october im filing a negligence and malfesence law suit againist every single city commissioner for closing station 7.

YouMustBeJoking

Or in other words, all the criminals in Sandusky head over to the west end of town because we obviously dont care about them and obviously non of us or our families live on the west side. signed, your city commissioners. I do NOT live on the west side, nor do I have any family members that live on the west side, however I cant believe that lives of our west siders are now going to be in jeopardy. Do they not realize that there are a number of seniors and 4 nursing homes,a halfway house, homeless shelter, lions park, a middle school, where soccer games are played, dorn park where hundreds of sanduskys children play baseball everyday. I could go on and on. This decision was NOT thought out, if it was then we need seven new city commissioners immediately. This is crazy.

Fromthe419

Perhaps they could have a volunteer fire department of the west side like smaller communities like Milan and Berlin Heights have. They are very professional and their response time is similar to full time fire departments. Just a thought.

reader

How much training and experience have those volunteers had to reach the level of expertise they have?

Fromthe419

I'm friends with several in Milan, I'll ask and post when I get home tonight, I know they have to take accredited courses and get certified, but I do not know all of the details.

ladydye_5

" all firefighters are required to take a minimum 110-hour NFPA-certified course" That is a minimum. Many departments require or ask that you have other courses or classes. There are also refresher courses and continuing education. Most small towns all have volunteer departments. Are you saying that they are not as well trained or safe as a paid department? Seems rather harsh and judgmental. I know and am related to many. Those men and women risk their lives for FREE...it doesn't get much more heartfelt and personal than that. The paid ones at least can say it is their job...the volunteers do it out of the NEED or calling to help others.

reader

In no way am I questioning the dedication and skills of any volunteer firefighter.

My point is those skills and expertise are the accumulation of years of experience and training. So a volunteer force is not going to solve the problem of our closed fire station this summer.

Fromthe419

Here's what I found out. The difference between MTFD (Milan Township FD) and Sandusky FD is that Sandusky's firefighters are all EMT's. Milan's firemen have the same training in fire related procedures, but are not required to be EMT's, North Central EMS covers emergency situations. Some of Milan's firefighters are EMT's, but not all of them. So given that, a volunteer department would not be adequate for Sandusky, I was just trying to think outside the box and offer a solution.

In The Know

While that may be the NFPA standard, in the State of Ohio, a 36 hour "volunteer" course is all that is needed to become a volunteer firefighter. That is of course unless the individual fire department requires higher training, or the individual person strives to complete the 110 or 240 hour course.

reader

It's irresponsible to close that fire station.

It's unreasonable to leave the admissions tax at 3%. The Point does not pay this tax.

It's questionable to seek a higher income tax from city residents, many of whom work low and minimum wage jobs.

Raising the income tax will not make the city a more attractive place to live.

Retiredfirefighter

reader the admission tax will never go up because our so called mayor mr murray. his firm represents cedar point and or cedar fair. so the admissions tax will never go up as long as he is on the city commission.

Babo

Every firefighter should file a grievance on Mr Murray with the Supreme Court of Ohio Disciplinary Counsel's office for the appearance of impropriety/conflict of interest between Mr. Murray's job as an attorney and his elected position.

It is insane not to pass an admissions tax increase to 8% (same as other world class amusement parks' customers pay) with a reduction in the income tax to 0.5% to attract new businesses and new residents through lower taxes and improved streets and infrastructure which is currently disgraceful.

Finally, is there a way for citizens to place an Admissions Tax increase on the ballot without the Commission through a referendum?

xtensionofme

Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Simple Enough II

For some saying raise the admission tax, how about breaking down who those calls go to, by number, %, severity, by resident vs non residents and by type ( ambulance call non emergency, ambulance call emergency transport with fire trucks tagging along, fire calls or vehicle accidents. etc.) See where the use us before saying someone else needs to pick up the cost. Does sandusky charge for calls & transport? Do they charge for vehicle accident services, if so where does the money go?

donutshopguy

They had to balance the budgeting a timely manner. The decision had to be made.

If there is a majority who wish a levy to be introduced than start a petition drive. If there is a majority who wish the admission tax to increase than start a petition drive.

We still have control over our government but you must let them know how we wish to fund this department. Stomping your feet and complaining is not the solution.

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