Liberty Township trustees voted to lay off four firefighters this week to save money as they await the results of an emergency levy on the February ballot.
At the trustees' meeting Monday, Dec. 17, the board voted 2-1 to terminate employment of the firefighters, effective Jan. 11. Trustees Curt Sybert and Mary Carducci voted for the measure and Trustee Melanie Leneghan voted against it.
The terminated employees are Pete Canfield, Dan Curtis, Mike Murphy and Cole Tomlin -- the department's four least senior firefighters.
Ten part-time firefighters were laid off last month, and four full-time firefighters have resigned or retired in the past six months.
Also at the Dec. 17 meeting, trustees accepted the resignation of full-time fire inspector Jack Allen, who is retiring for personal reasons.
"The department is a lot leaner and it's going to be more efficient. That's just the way it's going to be in 2013," Sybert said. "Those are the times we live in, and I'm sorry, but it's something that has to be done.
"We've been through the models and the models don't lie. The sooner we make cuts, the sooner we can save and preserve more men and women in this department."
Sybert said there is reason to believe two additional staff members might leave the department within the next 18 months to help the township reach its goal of 42 full-time firefighters -- roughly a 20 percent reduction from the 52 firefighters employed earlier this year.
Leneghan held tight to her conviction that forced layoffs weren't necessary. She said reductions are necessary but believes the department could afford to wait for voluntary resignations and forgo layoffs.
"I plead with this board to buy them some more time," she said. "Yes, ultimately we do need to reduce staffing, but we don't need to reduce it by Jan. 11."
Sybert, Carducci and other officials have stated doubts the resignations would come quickly enough.
Township Administrator Dave Anderson said the township could lose credibility if it entered Election Day, Feb. 5 -- when residents will vote on a five-year, 5.6-mill emergency levy to keep the fire department running -- without additional staffing reductions.
In November, residents voted down a five-year, 6.6-mill levy in the midst of a campaign that saw the fire department accused of being bloated and overstaffed.
Trustees previously committed to delaying any potential layoffs through the end of the year, but Anderson said it was unfair and unnecessary to wait to make the decision.
"The men and women who serve so admirably in this fire department really deserve an answer," he said.
"Having this hang over them has been exceedingly stressful to a number of people and this is the best thing we can do, given the unfortunate circumstances that face us."
Firefighter and fire union President Chalaco Clark said the department will accept the decision and work to restructure itself with a smaller budget, assuming the February levy passes.
But he said residents should pause to reflect on the measures taken following the failure of the November levy.
"I just want to make sure the citizens realize there are names and faces that go with this," Clark said. "This is not just about dollars; we're talking about families and lives and safety."
Sybert also said all firefighters will be given notice at the Jan. 7 trustees meeting that they could be laid off if the Feb. 5 levy fails. A notice of at least 30 days is required by law.
But he said he's more confident than ever it will pass thanks to strong grass-roots support.