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Mayor's annual address greeted with protest

In frigid temperatures, Syracuse firefighters called on guests of Mayor Stephanie Miner to save Fire Station 7 from the chopping block. Dozens of firefighters and supporters marched outside Dr. Weeks Elementary School on Thursday, where the mayor laid out her visions for Syracuse during the annual State of the City address.
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- In frigid temperatures, Syracuse firefighters called on guests of Mayor Stephanie Miner to save Fire Station 7 from the chopping block. Dozens of firefighters and supporters marched outside Dr. Weeks Elementary School on Thursday, where the mayor laid out her visions for Syracuse during the annual State of the City address.

"As pension costs eat up all of our fund balance...all of the revenue that we have, we're going to have to cut services and employees and other things. We have a fiscal responsibility to have a balanced budget," Miner explained.

The mayor will wrap up the fiscal year with an $8-million surplus. But, city hall will enter the 2013-2014 fiscal year with an estimated $20.9-million budget gap.

After learning the city spends roughly $20-million on utilities each year, Miner ordered a review of more than 240 city-owned properties. In some cases, the review may determine that existing buildings could be more efficient with minor upgrades. For example, better windows. In other cases, the mayor said some services could consolidate to use fewer facilities.

Syracuse's fire chief was asked if he could maintain service more efficiently. Lonnie Johnson, the president of Syracuse Firefighters Local 280, said he was informed two weeks ago that Station 7 could close.

“We're at a point of staffing right now where we are minimally safe. We lose any more firefighters from the position of response, it becomes a hole in our response area,” said Syracuse Firefighters Local 280 Vice President Paul Motondo.

Inside, crews lined the room where Mayor Stephanie Miner presented her State of the City outlook, with no mention of the firefighters. Motondo said her lack of attention to his crew was disappointing. However, she did talk about the looming budget gap.

"The reality is that I would love to have a fire station, a police station on every corner of the city, but we can't afford to do it,” Mayor Miner said.

Station 7 is located in a busy zone, helping cover Crouse Hospital and Syracuse University. They responded to nearly 6,000 emergency calls last year. The building needs updates that would cost more than a million dollars. But, the district's common councilor is more worried about the cost of potentially closing his fire hall, since that part of his district is slated for expansion.

"If that site was removed, we only have one station on the Eastside, which is the biggest density in the city of Syracuse, so that would be my biggest concern,” said Syracuse Common Councilor Nader Maroun.

“This is part of what we as a city are going to have to do, given the kind of fiscal restraints that we face. The issue of fire station 7 has become premature and blown out of proportion. It is part of putting together our budgets,” Mayor Miner continued.

The mayor says it's too early to know what will ultimately be cut in the budget. Talks are ongoing and changes at Fire Station 7 are on the table.
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