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Findlay Fire Department facing station closure, 20 layoffs

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FINDLAY, OH (The Courier) -

Twenty Findlay firefighters will be laid off and Station 4 on the east side will close by Monday if City Council takes no action before then.

Layoff notices were mailed last month, one day before administrators altered their recommendation and instead advocated 11 layoffs, which would keep all four fire stations open. An economic upturn since November caused the adjustment, officials said.

City Council members are expected to address the topic at tonight's regular meeting, which may draw a crowd thanks to thousands of fliers that firefighters have been distributing. Firefighters are also expected to attend.

The fliers ask residents to "help keep Findlay safe" by urging officials at tonight's council meeting, or by phone, to "prioritize public safety" and "not cut the Fire Department."

"The city of Findlay has taken available increased revenue and leftover money from 2012 and not invested in the Fire Department," the flier states. "On the contrary, while the city has one of the largest carryovers in history and with an improved economic forecast, they are moving toward cutting nearly one-third of the Fire Department. This will mean decreased safety services for the entire city."

Matt Cooper, Findlay's fire union president, said the fliers are a response to apparent confusion about the layoffs.

Cooper said some residents seem to think that no layoffs will occur, because of the city's extra money carried forward from last year, and additional income tax collections reported this year.

"We're not pointing fingers at anybody," Cooper said, "... but people need to know what's going on with their safety forces."

The fliers list phone numbers for council members and Mayor Lydia Mihalik.

"What you're seeing there is we have a very engaged Fire Department that cares a lot about the safety of our city, that cares about their jobs, and that brings a lot of value to this community," Mihalik said. "I think they're being proactive. They're utilizing the community to help advocate for their position, which I applaud."

Mihalik said part of the firefighters' message is one that administrators were trying to convey prior to the November election, when Findlay voters were asked to continue a quarter-percent income tax. Voters turned down the tax, leading to the layoffs.

"We were also saying that the way we deal with structure fires could be altered because of lack of funding," the mayor said.

Whether council will adopt the administration's recommendation of laying off 11 firefighters instead of 20 isn't known.

"There hasn't seemed to have been a whole lot of dialogue since I sent a letter" two weeks ago to council members about the change, Mihalik said. "I anticipate there will be a lot of questions asked at this council meeting."

Jim Slough, council president, said he thinks council will go into executive session to discuss the matter and then vote on the layoffs afterward by emergency measure.

"When you're discussing personnel matters, some of that information can be personal in nature," Slough said of why closed discussion could happen. "There are just some issues that are not meant to be public."

Slough said he isn't sure where his colleagues stand on firefighter layoff numbers, but he said he's received several calls from members of the public, indicating that laying off 11 and keeping Station 4 open "would be doing the right thing."

Slough said if he was responsible for casting a vote on the matter, he would favor 11 layoffs. He said his "gut reaction" is that others will, too.

When shown the firefighters' flier Monday, Slough said, "You've got to respect them for doing that. They obviously took their own time to do this. It's easier to sit on your duff and do nothing."

Firefighters who received layoff notices have yet to file appeals, perhaps because they're waiting to see what council does tonight, said Deidre Ramthun, Findlay Civil Service Commission clerk.

Twenty grievances have been filed, but some could be rescinded, depending on council's actions, Cooper said.

At this point, several firefighters remain in limbo about whether their Thursday night shift could be their last.

"They made a commitment to this town," Cooper said of the city's firefighters. "They want to be here."

By Joy Brown – Findlay Courier staff writer. Copyright 2013 The Findlay Courier. For more from the Courier, visit http://www.thecourier.com.