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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2004

Defiance police and firefighters may face layoffs

DEFIANCE - Local police dispatchers and firefighters pleaded with city leaders last night not to slash a dozen of their jobs, saying they believe a loss of workers would signal safety concerns for the city.

"We were told the city would be laying off five firefighters on Sept. 1 and [10 auxiliary members.] Basically what that does to our fire department is cut it in half. Thirty members to 15," said Jason Hoffman, president of the local fire union. "I think that's a huge safety concern to the public and a huge safety concern to our firefighters."

After the defeat of an income tax request last week, city administrators last night made a formal recommendation to city council on ways to stave off an anticipated budget deficit of about $800,000 next year.

No official decisions were made, and the matter is scheduled to be reviewed at 6 p.m. on Tuesday by council's finance committee.

At the top of the chopping block is the city's dispatch center, which leaders want to close, taking with it four full-time and three part-time workers.

In turn, city calls would be handled by the county's 911 center.

Also proposed is laying off five firefighters as well as the loss of 10 auxiliary firefighters who are not considered city employees.

Other proposed cuts include civil service testing and part-time help in the recreation and cemetery departments.

"It's probably the last thing any of us would care to do, as far as laying off employees, "Mayor Bob Armstrong said. "But I think that people have spoken: They want us to tighten our belts."

Last week, Defiance voters turned down a request for an additional five-year, 0.3-percent income tax that would have been used for operating expenses.

The levy, which was expected to generate $1.2 million a year, would have cost $124 a year to a wage-earner making $40,000. About 29 percent of registered voters cast a ballot on the issue, which lost by 140 votes out of 2,600 cast.

The city has projected the deficit because of fewer industrial jobs and higher health-care costs for city employees.

Last night, the city's finance director, Rebecca Snow, presented the council's finance committee with figures indicating the city is behind in its revenue collections, although she said its income tax collection has increased.

As a result of the levy defeat, city administrators met late last week with affected department heads and employees and informed them of their recommendation.

Sharon Flint, a part-time dispatcher who said she was told she's losing her job, questioned why city administrators want to lay off employees this year, when the 2004 budget is already in place.

She also said she felt misled, noting that she believed the city would have sought a another levy request before cutting the jobs.

Councilman Ellen Upp also questioned the reasons for layoffs this year.

"I'm still not sure I understand why they would look at these layoffs this year. We have a budget this year," Ms. Upp said.

Jeff Leonard, city administrator, noted that the proposed cuts will help ease budget woes if they're made sooner - not later.

"Certainly if we're going to try to make ends meet, we have to move swiftly," he said.

He said employees were given a Sept. 1 layoff date as a worst-case scenario only.

City administrators said that the police and fire departments were the last to be touched with budget cutbacks, as other employees from different departments faced layoffs 18 months ago.



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