GARY -- The city laid off four firefighters and got rid of the jobs they held Wednesday as it moved forward with cost-cutting that originally targeted as many as 57 firefighters' paychecks.
"It wasn't like we had a big choice," Firefighters Local 359 President Raynard Robinson said.
Gary sought to cut $833,000 from its Fire Department budget this year at the direction of its state-imposed fiscal monitor, Public Financial Management Inc. The firm said the city should lay off 57 firefighters to save the cash.
Local 359 fought back, though, marching on City Hall and passing fliers out to residents warning of increased emergency response times and higher property insurance rates if firefighters were furloughed.
Robinson said his union eventually sat down with the city and agreed to a 66 percent cut in clothing allowance. Now instead of $1,500 a year, Robinson said his members will receive a clothing allowance of $500 annually.
That didn't save the jobs of Juan Gonzalez, John Nelson, Jameir Ruffin or Arman Sumrall, who were laid off by Gary's Board of Public Works and Safety on Wednesday.
But it enabled the City Council to pass a revised 2010 budget last month dropping the Fire Department's budget from $13.6 million to $12.8 million.
That cut, along with a promise to close fire stations and save money in other areas, earned Gary a second year of budget relief from the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board.
Robinson pointed out his union, along with others, has given up several concessions as Gary struggles with budget shortfalls. With summer approaching and temperatures increasing, he said his members are under increasing stress.
Controller Celita Green said the four firefighters laid off this week could be called back if a position opens up. Robinson, meanwhile, said his union is trying to put together a fund-raising event for their benefit.
"We want to sit down with the city to see what we can do to bring them back," Robinson said.
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