City Council members indicated they will keep open minds as they review Mayor Gabriel J. Campana's proposal to operate a reduced-staff fire department, supplemented by volunteers.
They also indicated public safety must remain at the forefront.
Campana said he wants to give council time to discuss the prospect of a referendum question. Firefighters whose jobs are eliminated would be replaced by volunteers who are given pay for responses and training.
When polled by the Sun-Gazette earlier this week, six on council agreed to review Campana's proposal, but they each had reservations about the impact it would have on public safety and demand that it be thoroughly reviewed with all sides expressing their views, including the public through a hearing.
"I've only heard parts of it," said Council President Bill Hall, candidly sharing his angst whenever reductions of manpower are suggested.
"I had a family member die in a fire," Hall said. "It can haunt you."
Councilman Jonathan Williamson agreed that the mayor's concepts should be discussed at the committee level and elsewhere after the 2013 budget is adopted.
"Everything must be on the table," he said, a reference to the much-discussed troubling legacy costs of $55 million-plus that, he said, were passed on to the city and its taxpayers by prior councils and city leaders. "We're having to deal with the inflexible state laws regarding pensions," he said.
He warned that paying for pensions and health care can "squeeze out" other essential city services, but he noted the city has time and other commitments ahead.
"We have long-term budgetary concerns," he said. "It leaves the next three years of budgets to figure it out."
Councilman Randall J. Allison said whatever is decided must never compromise safety, but he said a financial peril looms if nothing is done.
"We need to look at everything because of the financial long-term difficulties we're facing," he said. "We need to address things now before it gets out of control."
"I must sit down and see where's he's going," said Councilwoman Bonnie Katz. "Every year, most people in this city can't afford a tax increase, but as far as touching fire, I can't answer it because I don't know what their contracts say," she said. "I give him (Campana) credit for trying creative ways to cut expenses and raise revenue."
"Unfortunately we have to play the cards we've been dealt," said Councilman Don Noviello. "Numbers will dictate our actions. I think we should hash it out over the next couple of weeks and make some determination."
"You never reject anything out of hand," said Councilwoman Liz Miele. "Clearly, the measure sounds drastic but we still need to hear from the mayor on his proposal."
Noviello said Loyalsock Township is an example of a "well run volunteer department," and "our neighbor."
Councilman N. Clifford "Skip" Smith, chairman of the city public safety committee, said whatever is done needs to be thoroughly reviewed and done without bias.
With the costs of city pension and health care benefits driving tax increases each year, this has become a constant complaint among city residents, Smith said.
"Everywhere I go in the city, I heard people say, 'I don't get those kind of pensions or health care packages,'" Smith said.