September 1, 2020 8:23 pm Kyle Beachy News, Peoria News, Top Stories
PEORIA (WEEK) – A divided Peoria City Council voted Tuesday night to decommission two fire engines and cut crew members working on those trucks to help close a $20 million budget deficit. The council’s vote was 6-5, with Councilman Dennis Cyr switching to a yes vote in favor of removing fire engines #4 and #20 from operation. Cyr explained that his decision to switch to a ‘Yes’ vote was about going “back to the basics.” He said, “My number one reason for running at that time was cutting taxes.”
During his time on the floor Tuesday, Cyr also spoke of his district and the fire service they receive. “Station 15 and 20 in my district have the worst effective response times than any other in the Peoria area, I am opposed to closing engine 20,” said Cyr. His initial motion was vague and didn’t specify which Fire Engines would be decommissioned. He pushed the council to “work together” to find the best option for everyone in the city so that response times could be equal in all of Peoria.
But Fire Chief Tony Ardis adamantly explained that if 2 machines were decommissioned, it would be #4 and #20. “We’re not making this up. Contrary to what some have said, we’re not being theatrical, we’re not being over the top. These are factual statements that we have not changed since forever,” explained Ardis. The reasoning for those specific machines was that the crews would be in unsafe situations if any other machines were decommissioned. Putting crews in a position where they may have to enter a fire without proper backup for an extended amount of time. That wasn’t something Chief Ardis was willing to have his Firefighters do.
Each engine is staffed by 11 firefighters, but it’s not known how many of them will be laid off. City Manager Patrick Urich said Tuesday that five firefighters had opted to take the Voluntary Separation Incentive that was passed by the council last week.
At-Large Councilwoman Beth Jensen voted against the motion. She spoke in favor of funding Public Safety. “I want my boys to want to come back here and start a life. And you have to start with basic city services,” she explained.
Decommissioning the two engines will save the city about $2 million, helping reduce a $20 million deficit. However, opponents of making cuts to the fire department said the action will endanger public safety because of increased response times.
Next week, Councilman Zach Oyler has encouraged the council to vote on a motion to freeze all capital spending. Meaning about $26 million in planned projects could be put on hold.