New budget options to prevent Elgin fire service cuts don't sway enough councilmen
After hearing three new options to cut $430,000 to balance the 2021 budget, the Elgin City Council voted 6-3 in favor of moving forward with a previous plan to change service at Fire Station 6.
Council members Corey Dixon, Baldemar Lopez and Tish Powell were the three dissenters in the preliminary committee-of-the-whole vote.
With pandemic-related budget shortfalls projected, city officials had previously asked firefighters to forgo their contractual 2.5% salary increase in exchange for having one year added to their contract, which expires in 2021. City administrators said nonunion Elgin employees and managers have foregone raises, helping to keep the budget balanced for a third straight year. Collective bargaining units like the firefighters were exempt from other furloughs, pay cuts and layoffs city workers have endured.
After the fire union balked, the city unveiled a plan at the last council meeting to reduce fire department expenses by replacing a fire engine at Station 6, at 707 W. Chicago St., with an ambulance once staffing reaches overtime levels, which would be about 77% of the time.
The cost savings comes from sending out a two-person crew with an ambulance, as opposed to three on an engine. Fire Chief Robb Cagann said Wednesday that "District 6 is virtually overlapped by every other district," making it the best choice to remove an engine.
The plan had received vocal pushback from the public and the fire union and raised questions Wednesday from some council members.
"We shouldn't recoup everything from the fire department because they want to take the their contractually obligated 2.5%," said Councilman Corey Dixon.
The new options presented by City Manager Rick Kozal included organizational expense reductions, drawing down the General Fund reserve and allocations from year-end budget surpluses.
Lopez saw possibilities in the expense reduction option, citing a budgeted $1.7 million for LED streetlight replacement.
"There's a potential for some of these reductions in some of these areas instead of putting lives at risk," Lopez said.
Powell said she was in favor of using reserves to cover the deficit.
"I have a hard time talking about reducing safety-related services in this community when we have reserves that could potentially cover this," Powell said.