Cincinnati would close around half of its fire companies under current budget proposal

CINCINNATI - The city of Cincinnati will close around half of its 40 fire companies because of staff cuts if city officials accept the budget proposal they're currently considering.

The closures would take place as a result of the current budget plan that calls for around 120 fire positions to be cut to help the city fix a $35 million budget deficit. By law, the city must find a way to close the deficit by July 1.

Cincinnati employs approximately 800 firefighters and the layoffs would include the 40 members of the city's 2013 recruiting class.

Under the contract Cincinnati firefighters currently have with the city, there must be at least four firefighters to every fire truck. In order to accommodate that provision in the contract and cut the positions, approximately 40 percent of the fire companies in the city would have to be closed to make the numbers work.

Potentially 16 of the city's 40 fire companies could close. Those 40 companies are: 26 engines, 12 ladder truck companies and two heavy rescue units, according to Matt Alter, president of Firefighters Union Local 48.

"Engine company" refers to the trucks kept at a fire station that are capable of pumping water.

Other types of companies include a truck company, which refers to trucks that carry ladders and other heavy equipment; and medic companies, which are vehicles with medical equipment.

"They need to look at all possibilities and they need to make those cuts before they attack public safety," Alter said.

Mayor Mark Mallory says a total of 344 city workers, including the firefighters and 189 police officers would lose their jobs under the plan. He also said the deficit would grow to $45 million because of expenses from the layoffs.

Last week, Mallory said without the $92 million the city would receive up front from a controversial parking lease plan that's being contested in court, the personnel moves would be necessary. He urged residents not to sign the referendum petitions on the plan.

"People need to not sign a petition," the mayor said at a March 28 press conference. "If you sign a petition, you're laying off a cop or firefighter."

The city held a special city council session Thursday to address the deficit and possibly avoid the layoffs.

"There's one thing I do take away from today: There are options," City Councilamn P.G. Sittenfeld said during the council meeting.

He said the city could theoretically use casino revenue or capital dollars to pay for some of the city's personnel is an option. 

However the meeting ended without a concrete third budget option that provides an alternative to the public safety cuts.

Sittenfeld says city council shouldn't just settle for the better of two "bad options."

"Our job is to be resourceful, creative, make some difficult decisions and put services first. So, this is obviously the beginning of that conversation, but I hope that will be our priority moving forward. We do not have to accept two bad options," he said.

There were no votes scheduled for new proposals as of Thursday evening.

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