Fire chief has a $1M plan

City could keep six firefighters by transferring funds.
Andy Ouriel
Dec 2, 2013

 

Sandusky officials have developed a proposal to keep six full-time firefighters on staff.

At a recent finance meeting, Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci requested shifting about $1 million from another city account to cover the six salaries in 2014 and 2015.

A $1 million federal grant, set to expire this year, funded the payroll for the positions for the past three years.

There’s no room in the fire department’s proposed $5.2 million 2014 budget to fund these positions.    

About 94 percent of the fire department’s budget is used for payroll.

At a glance
• Some Sandusky officials want to take a total of $1 million from another city account to fund six full-time firefighter positions in 2014 and 2015. 
• The six positions were funded by a federal grant that is set to expire this month. 
• This city account primarily funds replacements and repairs for fire-related vehicles and equipment.

Each year firefighter salaries typically increase because of union-approved raises and other related benefits, including surging health insurance costs.

So city officials needed to find the money elsewhere to maintain full-time staffing levels at 53 firefighters.

The proposal
After months of research, Ricci and others concluded the city should fund $1 million in salaries by taking money from an account dedicated to replacing or repairing fire-related vehicles and equipment.

Problem is, they’ll drain a large chunk of money from the fund, which is known as the EMS account. Ambulance billing fuels the EMS account.

The account today shows a balance of $1.8 million.

When considering for other income sources, the account should total about $900,000 by 2015.

“We’re using a short-term solution for a long-term challenge,” Ricci said. “The downside to doing this is you are exhausting your vehicle, facilities and equipment replacement budget. But this will give us the necessary time to develop a plan for what we need to do”

Ricci said shifting money around, a tactic previously done by officials, is a last resort to ensure “minimum staffing levels”

“We are offering a minimum level of service today,” Ricci said. “How do I know that? It’s based on 30 years of experience. There’s a lot of activity in our city. I need the amount of people I currently have to provide the level of service necessary to the people in our city”

Ricci hasn’t formally presented his plan to commissioners in a public setting yet.

It’s not known exactly when Ricci will make a presentation nor when commissioners could — or even would — support the funding proposal.

But at least one commissioner said he’s on board with the plan.

“I’m in favor of keeping the 53 firefighters on staff,” city commissioner Wes Poole said. “We need to do what have to do to maintain that service level with the number of people we have now”

Negative impact
If city officials reject the proposal, and no other funding method surfaces, Ricci said the department’s full-time staff would decrease to 47.

Among the fallouts from a smaller staff:

• Losing six people equates to two fewer people working on each shift in the three city-based fire stations. This could mean responding to fewer emergency calls. Sandusky fire receives about 5,300 emergency calls a year, with 75 percent devoted for ambulance runs and 25 percent for fires.

• Plunging departmental morale.

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

• Closing Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road for at least one day a week.

“What’s going to be the result with no money?” Ricci said. “I’m not gong to be able to get service to people I have in the past, and there will be consequences”

Comments

KURTje

Well folks freeze/cut pay on all levels. Sadly most other people in America has had this done. Lease options for equipment minus chrome wheels? Volunteers? Morale?...again this is America, you too have to do more with less like most everyone else. Like a good neighbor State Farm is there.

mikesee

Wow! It costs just short of $84,000 per firefighter per year?

MiddleRight

Once you include retirement pickup, overtime, healthcare and other employee expenses, yes, all employees are expensive.
Why is this an all or nothing propisition? Why not eliminate 3 positions and transfer $500,000? Then you aren't draining your equipment account but you can maintain more staffing.
The long term plan here, is to use the money for salaries, and then in 2 years put a levy on the ballot for "New Equipment" becuase there will be no money in the equipment account.

-Politicians think the general population is dumb, but that might be our fault becuase we keep electing them.

donutshopguy

Middle,

Sounds like the Perkins school board. Move funds from operations to permanent improvement to build a new school and then try for a new operation levy. The public didn't buy it.

MiddleRight

You are exactly right.

Darkhorse

They are robbing different accounts to balance the budget. Taking one million from the EMS fund is not going to help because two years from now, we will be looking at more money to support the cause. Shut down all the stations but one station downtown and operate from that station. If you can't afford it, you have to do what you have to do.

sandusky2012

why we need so many firehouses isnt that why we have the overpass.close down the station.or better yet make it a volunteer firehouse!!!!! Margaretta and clyde have these and doesnt cost money!!!!

Lissa4u

Sandusky2012, you're wrong about volunteer fire departments not costing money. There is a cost to running them as is evident by the volunteer Fire Department levies (in my community) that I've voted for over the years.

The west end of Sandusky needs the Venice Road fire station to service the residents. The central station is too far, especially for the residents that live on Bardshar Rd., Venice Heights School, the houses around Margaritaville, and the Lutheran home. A squad coming from anywhere other than Venice road could cost someone their life with even just a minute added to the response time.

Huron_1969

They should order another study

Fireside

NOT a good plan.

pavedparadise

As the City Commission debates how to address a $1 million dollar shortfall in the budget, think about this.

***The population of Sandusky has fallen by leaps and bounds from 32,000 to 25,000 today.

***The housing stock has decreased via condemned and housing demolition.

***Sandusky no longer has the industrial base it once had lessening the potential for 5 alarm industrial fires--mutual aid is in place as the Chief states.

***transferring funds from an account earmarked for fire equipment to pay salaries is "robbing Peter to pay Paul" and more times than not become a permanent fixture--example the license plate tax where the majority of dollars goes to salaries instead of new streets.

***who sets the "minimum staffing requirements" for the fire and police departments--the city commission and union while negotiating a new contract?

***why wasn't this an issue for discussion by commission two years ago when new contracts were approved?

Decisions to layoff employees, especially in safety services, are an emotional subject and political suicide. As the Sandusky Register has documented, safety service salaries take up the overwhelming chunk of Sandusky's budget--over 50%. Shifting tax dollars is not the answer. Every City department needs to be under scrutiny including safety services and minimum staffing requirements.

There's a possibility discussion about closing station #7 is focused on the wrong station.

donutshopguy

When you accepted those federal funds was there not an end date? Yep, there was but those in power did not plan for that occurrence. This poor planning now gives you the right to rob money from another fund?

Robbing Peter to pay Paul is the start of a downward cycle for any government agency. This type of policy is a temporary fix and will lead to bigger problems down the road.

Can we all say "Detroit Bankruptcy".

Live within your budget. Trying this stopgap solution compounds the problem.

SamAdams

+1 ^

And let me add my two cents to the federal grant funds discussion: You KNEW these funds were temporary. You KNEW you'd have to come up with more money or lay off the staff you used that money to hire. And yet, here we are. I hate to say I told you so, but I (and a host of others on these pages) TOLD you so!

Let me echo donutshopguy with emphasis: LIVE WITHIN YOUR BUDGET. And yes, throwing good money after bad will solve nothing. So stop even thinking about it, and try to plan ahead next time, okay?

Fireside

I agree. This was discussed when approved. Maybe the register can go back and check both the written minutes AND the tape of the meeting.

cantsay

If you go to a volunteer house then the property owners insurance will go up.

T. A. Schwanger

###

Certainly the City Commission and Chief Ricci are reading these comments and will have answers in the weeks to come.

I specifically remember discussion regarding the possibility of closing Station 7 once the SR 101 overpass was complete. It is my understanding Station 7 needs major work and updating partly due to flooding issues--mold etc.

The community also needs an explanation on how "minimum staffing levels" are generated.