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Oswego fire department critical of proposed city budget cuts

There's a public hearing Monday night for the proposed Oswego city budget, which includes cuts to various programs to deal with a budget shortfall. One of the loudest voices against the cuts has been the Oswego Fire Department. If the budget is passed, the Fire Department could see their ambulance corps reduced, fewer firefighters assigned for each shift, and one fire station closed.

At the West Side Fire Station in Oswego, Deputy Chief Mark McManus says he's worried that if the budget is approved, this station may need to shut its doors, leaving just one station for the lakeside town.

"My shift responded to 17 calls, I had five ambulances and I could have used a sixth on Friday night," said McManus. "What are we supposed to do in a situation where we just get slammed with calls and people expect you to respond?"

The proposed budget would cut a chunk out of what the Oswego Fire Department has requested in spending. Among other things, the department provides ambulance service to the city of Oswego and surrounding towns.

Mayor Thomas Gillen says the proposed budget, with the cut to the fire department, will already increase the property tax rate by 11 percent for Oswego homeowners. The mayor says something has to give.

“What we've got now is a shortfall in our budget, where there's several hundred thousand dollars that we don't see. We've gotta either raise taxes or cut back on how we do things,” said Gillen.

But firefighters say the number of calls they respond to has been rising, and most of those are medical emergencies, not fires.

Union president John Geraci thinks there should be an independent assessment of the department before the cuts are made.

"One of my big problems with some of these cuts, is it safe is it unsafe, I haven't seen a whole lot of research on the side of the city to say, yes, this is safe. What are we basing that on?"

Gillen said he hopes to have a full assessment done in 2013.

The public hearing begins at 7 p.m., and the mayor says he believes the council will vote on the cuts tonight.