SAFETY FORCES Struthers considers police, fire vacancies

Some have seen safety force openings as a way to trim the budget.
STRUTHERS -- It's easy enough for public officials to look at budget figures in terms of black and white, especially when they're trying to keep the government out of the red, but when matters of public safety are involved, the issue takes on several shades of gray.
Struthers City Council member Daniel Yemma stressed that point Wednesday night as he urged his colleagues to make an informed decision about whether to fill recent vacancies in the city's fire and police departments.
Three firefighters quit in recent weeks, Fire Chief Harold Milligan said. The police department has four current vacancies -- two officers and two dispatchers.
Budget woes
Like many area governments, council finds itself with little wiggle room in its budget these days. Its financial picture was clouded recently as Gov. Bob Taft and the state General Assembly pondered cuts in the amount of state funds given to local governments, as a means of addressing the state's own budget problems.
Last month, the council passed a resolution urging state officials to leave the funding intact. The city's $3.7 million budget includes $220,000 it receives from the state, and the city can't afford to lose that contribution, councilmen said.
Meanwhile, recent vacancies in the ranks of city police and firefighters have been seen by some as an opportunity for some budget paring, but Yemma warned against any hasty decision.
"We should take a long, hard look at every vacancy," he said. "In the case of a fireman or any of our safety services, though, there are other issues involved."
It would not be in the best interests of city residents to trim the police and fire budgets to the point where public safety is threatened, the councilman suggested.
The council took no action on the issue Wednesday. Its Finance and Legislation Committee, chaired by Yemma, will meet in the next two weeks with Milligan and Chief of Police Robert M. Norris to discuss staffing of their departments.