September 23, 2014

Elyria
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Proposal to keep firefighters goes to Lorain Council

LORAIN — Twelve firefighters scheduled for layoffs may be staying.

City Council members could vote tonight on a proposal by Mayor Chase Ritenauer’s administration to raise the $663,000 needed to pay the firefighters’ salaries for an additional year.

“We think we can keep everybody who’s on the force,” Auditor Ron Mantini said Sunday.

A portion of the money would come from $165,860 from the final year of estate taxes that have been eliminated by the Legislature. Mantini said he budgeted for about $200,000 in estate taxes, but the city has received about $640,000 so far this year. “That’s totally unexpected,” he said.

Another $127,690 would come from reductions in expense accounts tied to retirements of firefighters slated for promotion. Additional money would come from Urban Development Action Grants, Mantini said.

The grants are federal taxpayer money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to poor cities like Lorain. Mantini said the money is usually loaned to businesses, but can be used to pay for firefighters. All firefighters slated for layoffs have two years or less on the job and

Mantini said Lorain will save in the long term by not having to train new firefighters to replace retiring ones.

Lorain hopes to retain the firefighters after next year through attrition. The department has about 80 firefighters and about 18 per shift.

The layoffs likely would cause the closing of Fire Station 4 at 401 Idaho Ave., on the east side and possibly Station 7 at 2111 W. Park Drive on the west side. Average response times of 3.5 minutes likely would increase if the layoffs occur.

The two-year, $1.73 million federal taxpayer grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency expired last month surprising city and fire department officials who anticipated renewal. Ritenauer previously said the grant may have been a casualty of $85 billion in across-the-board federal budget cuts.

Since the expiration, Ritenauer and Fire Chief Tom Brown have worked to save the jobs. Brown praised Mantini and Ritenauer for their efforts.

“We beat every bush to see how to get around that shortfall,” Brown said. “I hope to get Council’s support and avoid these layoffs.”

Ritenauer said Sunday he expected the layoff issue will be resolved by Council tonight. Ritenauer previously said the layoffs would occur if the grant wasn’t renewed. Firefighter Jonathon George, president of Local 267 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said Ritenauer went “above and beyond” to find the money.

“We’re pretty ecstatic,” George said. “Things were pretty grim around here when we found out we weren’t going to get the grant.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.