By Ann Rubin
Centralia, IL (KSDK) - Budget issues in Centralia, Illinois are forcing budget cuts in every city department, and the firefighters are next.
Before they go back to the bargaining table, the firefighters organized a rally to let city leaders hear from the public.
"I'm behind them 100 percent," said Heather Niepoetter, who came to show her support.
And they hope the voices of hundreds of residents might help sway city officials.
The mayor has already said the department needs to make sacrifices, or be sacrificed in favor of a volunteer or private department.
"We never thought all it took was a city council vote to get rid of the fire department," said Fire Lt. Wesley Castang.
But faced with budget shortfalls now approaching $1.8 million, Centralia officials say they have no choice but to look at all their options.
"We hope it doesn't come to that. We just want to make sure there are negotiations moving on in a very quick manner because of the deplorable economic state that we're in," said Mayor Tom Ashby.
City leaders say all departments have been asked to make cuts. The fire department is no exception.
But the firefighters union says public safety is at stake, and that's why the group marched to city hall, filling the council chambers Monday night.
"We hope they take notice that the citizens are concerned about their own safety and they're concerned about the firefighter's ability to do their job," said Pat Devaney of the Assoc. Firefighters of IL.
Both sides admit their preference is to find a way to compromise and move contract talks forward.
Residents hope their opinions will help.
No decisions were made at Monday's city council meeting. They'll go back to the bargaining table next week.