MATTOON, Ill. (WCIA) — The city council voted to eliminate the assistant chief position.
They say they had to do it so the city doesn’t go bankrupt, but some people are worried the fire department is taking too many cuts.
It’s another controversial move by the city council as they try to work on their budget.
Several people at the meeting brought up the city getting rid of the fire departments ambulance service. That happened a few months ago.
This position elimination now has gotten people’s attention to how financially precarious the situation is in Mattoon.
“In the state of Illinois, it is not possible for cities to file for bankruptcy, but if you run out of money what makes the difference, you’re broke.”
Mayor Tim Gover says that’s the position the City of Mattoon is in right now.
“We around all these tables, are trying to find ways to reduce our expenses.”
Gover says the city is facing a $750,000 deficit. Budget problems are also why city leaders claim the ambulance service had to go.
“We can’t reduce it much more, we’re down to the point where we’re looking at personnel, that’s all we have left to cut.”
It’s why now, they’ve voted to eliminate the fire department’s assistant chief position. The now-former Assistant Chief Sean Junge will be re-assigned as a shift captain.
“It’s regrettable, here we have a good man and we have to make a change. He’s done an outstanding job and it’s nothing related to what he has done or not done, it’s simply a budgetary situation.”
The firefighters union says eliminating the assistant chief office will set the department back years. They say they won’t be able to respond to calls as efficiently, but City Administrator Kyle Gill says they’ve done restructuring in the past, and this is no different.
“We’ve had a mixture, on and off throughout the years, battalion chiefs, captains, assistant chiefs.”
Gill says from 2009 to 2011 the fire department didn’t have an assistant chief. City leaders say it’s unfortunate it had to come to this, but with the budget, their hands are tied.
“That’s the position we’re in, we’re not trying to do anything that would harm the people, believe me.”
Now-former Assistant Chief Sean Junge declined to comment tonight.
The city claims the department was losing $700,000 with the ambulance service in place, and they can save another $100,000 by getting rid of the assistant chief position.
Several people at Tuesday’s meeting had other concerns, about the city eliminating the fire department’s ambulance service.
Two private companies now handle emergency medical calls in Mattoon.
People say they’ve had to wait more than an hour for an ambulance to come from Paris, to transport them to Champaign. They say it’s only a matter of time before someone dies while waiting.
“Finally the nurse came back in, she said we’re really working on this, we’re trying to get an ambulance, she said we’ve got one that’ll be here in about an hour from Paris. She just looked frazzled, I said oh God, and she said ‘welcome to our world.'”
City leaders say they can’t afford to bring back the fire department’s service.