Firefighters union president reacts to talk of cuts

By WEEK Producer

October 7, 2010 Updated Oct 7, 2010 at 8:57 PM CDT

An estimated $14-million budget deficit for next year has the city of Peoria talking cuts to its police and fire departments again.

This week Mayor Jim Ardis announced that 13 police and 15 firefighter positions could be on the chopping block. The revelation comes while the firefighters union is negotiating a new contract.

Last year the cashed-strapped city of Peoria asked the firefighters union for a wage freeze. They didn't have to agree to it, but they did, giving up their scheduled raises for 2010.

"When we made those concessions we saved jobs and we protected our safety," said Andy Perry, the president of Firefighters Local 50.

"The citizens did not have to go without fire protection."

But suddenly alarms are going off because that could change.

The city will be in a financial hole again in 2011. And this week Mayor Jim Ardis brought up the possibility of cutting 15 firemen.

Perry had this reaction.

"It's frightening anytime you hear anybody in public safety, whether its police or fire being potentially laid off. Whether that number is one or whether that number is one-hundred its unacceptable."

And it might impact contract talks. A year after giving up those raises the firefighters union in the process of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.

"Concessions aren't necessarily an option in 2011 because we don't have anything to concede," said Perry.

Meanwhile, residents aren't eager to concede the issue of safety.

"It would be a smart move if they kept the firemen," said Peoria resident John Taylor. "Obviously we need them, so if they could keep them as long as they can."

David Sumrell echoed those sentiments.

"We need firemen. Just like we need police and paramedics and different services like that," said Sumrell.

And Perry says Peoria needs more firefighters because right now the city is staffed below the national standard.