Oct. 03--MIDDLETOWN -- City Council members are reviewing every line item in the 2014 budget, and some say it's time to make "bare bone decisions" that may result in lower staffing levels of the city's fire department.
On Tuesday, Middletown's vice mayor expressed concern about the city's budget and how it may negatively impact staffing of the fire department.
Dan Picard said if the city wants to balance its 2014 budget, which means cutting about $1.4 million, there is a potential that up to 15 firefighter positions will be eliminated, including the six who were hired two years ago when the city received a Safer Grant that ends in September 2014.
Picard called cutting that many firefighters -- 21 percent of the 73 on staff -- "not acceptable."
Picard said during his four years on City Council, the fire department has been "under attack" and he doesn't understand the reasoning.
Still, Picard said, the city must find ways to reduce its budget because revenue has remained flat recently. The city budgeted about $29 million in revenue this year, but will be about $600,000 short, he said. The city is projecting about $28 million in its early 2014 budget, he said.
Picard and other council members are hopeful that residents will give them guidance on their priorities.
"We have to get rid of something," he said.
Councilman Josh Laubach said he wants to see no layoffs in the city's police and fire departments.
Mayor Larry Mulligan said as the city's revenue remain the same the city is financially "treading water."
It's time to make some "bare bone decisions," he said, and unlike the federal government, the city can't shut down.
"We must move forward," he said. Then he added: "We do have our challenges."
Council will review the proposed 2014 budget at its meetings on Nov. 5 and Nov. 19, said City Manager Judy Gilleland. She said it's "unfortunate" that revenues didn't "bounce back" as quickly as anticipated.
The size of the city's fire and police departments has dropped recently. In 2007, the city employed 85 fire personnel. Today, there are 73, including two in administration, 69 fire fighters and two who work in training.
During that same time, the police department has dropped from 116 employees to 106. The number of police officers has dropped from 62 in 2011 to 54 this year, according to the city budget.
Chris Klug, vice president of the Local 336, the firefighters' union, said when Middletown residents passed a public safety levy, they were told the city would "maintain" staffing levels. Now, he said, it appears they're "going back on their word."
Klug said if firefighter positions are eliminated, it may cause residents' and business insurance rates to increase and make it more dangerous for residents and firefighters. He said there were two calls for a house fire recently in the city, and mutual aid was called from Monroe. He said by the time the call was dispatched until Monroe arrived on scene, 20 minutes had passed.
The police department may not lose any positions until early 2016, when a safety grant that allowed the hiring of four officers expires, Gilleland said. Eventually, she said, positions may be cut in the police department too. The size of the department is being reduced through nutrition, said Cris Kelly, union president.
Additional cuts, he said, will impact the "level of services" in the city.
"We are adding to the risk with fewer people," Kelly said. "We are at bare bones."
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