FOSTORIA - A worsening budget crunch will force the city to start 2002 by laying off at least a half-dozen city workers, and more job cuts could be on the way, according to city officials.
Mayor John Davoli told city council Tuesday night that as many as nine city employees, including police and fire personnel, could lose their jobs right after the holidays.
The city is facing a projected deficit of $1.6 million for 2002, and the mayor said officials have cut seasonal and part-time workers and reduced spending on supplies. Employees are the city's biggest single expense, and there's nowhere else to cut, the mayor said yesterday.
“This is probably the roughest and the toughest thing I've ever had to do as mayor,” he said. “It's a worst-case scenario: `Merry Christmas, you're laid off.' I didn't want to do it, but I have no choice.”
The mayor expects “two or three” employees to be laid off in the fire department and the police department, plus an equal number of other city workers represented by Local 811 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
“I don't like cutting safety forces and I don't like cutting union workers, but it has to be done,” Mayor Davoli said. “Safety forces encompass the majority of that general fund.”
Fire Chief Russell Rife said any job cuts would hurt his department, which added six employees in June when the city took over ambulance service from a private company.
“I have some very strong concerns and some very strong reservations about layoffs, but unfortunately I also understand the economics of the time,” Chief Rife said.
The fire department has 26 employees, including six EMS staffers. Because of seniority, any layoffs would hit the EMS employees first, with firefighters bumping into those vacant jobs, the chief said. “It's a real hard pill to swallow,'' he said.
Besides the coming layoffs, the city plans to eliminate positions in the police and sewer departments that will be opened by retirements.
The city has laid off workers twice this year.
In July, Fostoria eliminated 11 employees, including softball scorers and workers in the streets department. In October two seasonal parks employees and a part-time secretary in the zoning office were laid off.
Mayor Davoli said the city will end 2001 in the black “just barely.”
General fund revenue has plunged, fueled by a drop in income-tax collections. The mayor said the city had projected revenue of $8.5 million for 2001 but could end the year below $8 million.
Next year's revenue projection is just $6.7 million, with estimated expenses of $8.3 million.
Mayor Davoli said he will monitor city revenue in the first quarter next year and may be forced to cut more jobs if tax collections don't rebound.
“There may be to be more layoffs,” he said. “We'll do it basically quarter by quarter.”
He said the slowing economy, especially since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, made a bad budget situation worse.
“A lot of local businesses, they're laying off people of course, but they're also not working people on overtime,” the mayor said. “They're not working full third shifts.”
Last month, for instance, the Honeywell, Inc., spark-plug factory in Fostoria canceled its third shift and laid off 160 of its 540 employees because of a shortage of parts.