Although he was one of the two councilmen who voted against the 2010 New Rochelle City budget because it was not cut enough, Councilman Lou Trangucci still criticized one of the cuts made, The City Council cut $800,000 in the budget which was designated for salary increases. However, Trangucci said a high proportion of that money will fall disproportionately on the Fire Department. At the Council meeting he first asked whether the money could be found elsewhere in the budget besides salaries. The Commissioner of Finance, Howard Rattner, replied this could not be done. This was followed by a question to the Fire Commissioner, Ray Kiernan, to determine how fire men would be deployed if layoffs became necessary. Kiernan said if the number of fire fighters went below a certain number he would have to close one fire house and rearrange the areas of the city the different fire houses covered.
Three municipal unions have contracts for raises. These contracts were not violated but the $800,000 reduction in salary increases applies only to three unions. Other non-union workers will also get no raise. According to Chuck Strome, City Manager, if the three unions, The Fire Union Local 273, Local 663 Public Works and Community Service workers, and CSEA (City Hall employees) do not agree to give up the raises in some form, there will have to be layoffs. The Fire Department contract ends in 2010 and the other two in 2011, The layoffs according to Strome will be made in proportion to the budget share of the $800,000 total. The Fire Union faces 5-6 layoffs, Local 663 2-3 employees, and CSEA, 1-2 employees. Apparently the choice of a salary deferral in 2010 or a freeze in salary is still under consideration. Each group will have separate agreements. Should no agreement be reached layoffs will occur in the union that cannot reach an agreement.
One items that was not mentioned is the Safer Act which is a government grant given to the city to use to make sure the city keeps a minimum number of firemen on staff. For this grant, the Fire Department is now one short of the minimum number for this Safer Act grant to be given to the City. The City would need to hire one more fireman at a cost of $45,000 and that would give the City a grant of $160,000. The net gain would be $115,000 which could be used for staffing in the department.
After the meeting Trangucci expressed deep concern over any cutting of the fire fighters in the city. His district would be disproportionately impacted because of the large number of apartments and senior citizens. The firemen must respond to calls for emergency medical service and he noted there are times when it is only the fire men who respond to an emergency call since there are only a limited number of ambulances in the city. Although the Council has been getting quarterly reports on the financial condition of the city, he has requested monthly updates from the Finance Commissioner. He felt that the City Council should have been considering the financial conditions of the country during the year which led up to this budget. As an example he said in the past year the city approved $360,000 to pave the library parking lot and $140.000 to clean the Veterans Monument both of which could have been deferred to another time. This would have resulted in $500,000 for the general fund and could have both reduced homeowners’ taxes and kept every fire man on the payroll.
Byron Gray, President of Fire Union Local 273 reported the following. “My union is stunned that the City administration voted to remove our negotiated raises from the budget. My membership is very aware of the economic climate that we our currently in. A majority of us are residents of New Rochelle and will also have to bear the burden of increased taxes. The reality of this decision is harsher than you could imagine. We are a profession that needs a lot of personnel to react properly to many of the duties we are assigned to accomplish. My members are very aggressive in their effort to mitigate any situation that may arise. We need to maintain this aggressiveness in order to protect life and property. A small fire can very quickly become a large fire. Any reduction in manpower will negatively impact our ability to perform our duty. This reduction will also correlate to an increased occurrence of injuries to my members as we will be required to do more with less. Some of the probable impacts of this decision will result in the closing of a firehouse in New Rochelle which will cause a delayed response to that part of the city. Emergency medical assistance will also be delayed city wide as we have to respond with apparatus that are further away from an incident. More rigs will be tied up at other incidents which will further delay a quick response to another incident that might occur at the same time. We currently don’t have enough men to properly operate at any high rise building.”
“Regarding the decision to remove our raise from the budget. Our current contract was negotiated backin 06 and 0, it was a four year contract to give the city some stability so they could gauge the cost over a four year period. We are upset that our raise was removed in the final year. Many are not aware of the nuances of negotiating a contract and the give and take involved to come to an agreement that mutually benefits all concerned. Most are not aware of the benefits we have to fight for to maintain on a ongoing basis. There is never a good time financially when we negotiate, or so we are told. It is especially disheartening now to have to make a deal with the city to save the jobs of my junior members. These are members we have protected over the years through our previous negotiations with givebacks to the city. We have even helped the city by splitting our wage increases for the last two years to keep the cost down. In the original proposed budget the actual cost of our increase in wages to the average taxpayer would only have been $28.00 per household. This figure only applies to our portion of the $800.000 removed from the budget which is approximately $536.000. We have been placed in a difficult situation to make decisions we shouldn’t even have to consider. There is great resentment from my membership that we are once again placed in jeopardy of losing jobs in order help balance the cities budget.”
via Westchester Herald, December 14, 2009