North Canton announced the layoff of a fire inspector Tuesday. The question is what other cuts will the city make to close an expected budget gap of more than $700,000 in 2014.
Facing a budget deficit of $700,000 to $900,000 in 2014, Mayor David Held on Tuesday said the city would lay off one of its three full-time union Fire Department inspectors.
The laid-off employee, Scott Kelly, also a firefighter and paramedic, was chosen under the union contract because he had the least seniority of the fire inspectors. In a letter to Kelly, Held said by laying him off, the city will save about $78,877 a year in salary and benefits.
The city first hired Kelly in August 2006. The layoff is effective March 26. However, Held has offered Kelly a full-time job that pays about $10,000 a year less as a “drinking water treatment plant non-certified operator” in the city’s Water Department, which is funded mainly by fees.
Council is expected to vote March 25 to hike water fees by 5.5 percent a year for at least three years. Held said the water-plant position is vacant, and as a result, other water employees are working overtime. He said the job will be filled regardless of whether the city gets the rate increases.
If Kelly doesn’t accept the job, the city would have to pay him the cash value of his unused sick time benefits. A message seeking the amount was left for Finance Director Karen Alger.
It’s not clear if rejecting the job would make Kelly ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits. If he’s eligible, the city would have to pay for up to 26 weeks of his benefits as long as he is out of work. That is roughly half his salary up to a maximum ranging from $413 to $557 a week, depending on his number of dependents.
City Administrator Mike Grimes said Kelly would remain a volunteer firefighter to battle and investigate fires for $14.13 an hour. He said that last year, Kelly earned $9,000 in that position.
Held cited the city’s financial challenges as the reason for the layoff. The mayor wrote that the loss of half of local government funding from the state, the state’s repeal of the local estate tax, slackening property tax revenue and higher health care costs led to the city’s fiscal situation.
Council President Jon Snyder, Ward 4, said the fire levy provides about $170,000 a year to fund the fire department. The general fund provides the bulk of the fire department’s support — about $470,000.
Held also said he has learned that most nearby cities of North Canton’s size have only one full-time inspector. He wrote in the letter that the city also has not filled six vacant positions. Last month, the city’s director of administration, William Bartos, left for a job with Canton after officials began to consider eliminating his position.
Held briefed council about the layoff in executive session Monday night.
“Fiscally, we had no choice,” said Snyder. “I feel bad about it, but there’s not a lot we can do about it.”