Rhetoric aside, Champaign residents have little to fear from minor reductions in public safety spending.
Faced with a revenue shortfall, Champaign city government last year did what other units of government should do — it cut back spending to live better within its means. Changes adopted with little controversy included small reductions in the city's fire and police departments carefully chosen to pose little or no jeopardy to citizens.
Then came a city election, and what had not been much of an issue before became a cause celebre for candidates seeking office. When the newcomers won, the reductions were delayed for further study.
But delay doesn't pay the bills. In this case, it only delayed the savings.
Now, a reduction in staffing at one firehouse and a change in overnight front desk policy at the police station are scheduled to take place Jan. 1. Frankly, few residents will ever notice the difference.
Likely no one would even have noticed save for vigorous efforts of union firefighters to publicize and politicize the issue, suggesting that what they took to calling a "brown out" at the department's John Street station somehow put residents at risk.
Firefighters said they were concerned with public safety. And no doubt they are. They also might have had just a little concern about the loss of more than $400,000 in overtime pay accruing to them for maintenance of a readiness level at John Street in excess of that at most other substations.
Firefighters, after all, aren't the only public employees who keep the safety of residents in mind. The administrators who studied and selected these reductions have admirable reputations for doing just that. The city of Champaign has long been able to boast impressive fire department response times. That will be no less true after this change than before it.
The very administrators now accused of ignoring public safety considerations are the very same city leaders who designed and implemented a comprehensive footprint of fire department substations citywide that made possible those rapid response times.
City residents are right to want such excellence in fundamental city services, and it isn't wrong for firefighters to lobby for their own best interest. But city council members are correct to let these long-planned spending reductions go forward at last, and neither they nor the citizens they represent should have undue concern when it happens.
Residents can then be grateful for a city that attempts to both emphasize public safety and operate within its means.