OSWEGO, NY – The Administrative Services Committee voted to return $100,000 (from overtime contingency) to the Fire Department’s budget for code enforcement.
Monday night’s vote followed a nearly 90-minute debate. Further discussion will likely take place on the floor of the June 22 council meeting.
A total of $345,000 had been budgeted and passed for Fire Department overtime.
That was divided into $145,000 for department overtime; $100,000 for codes and the remaining $100,000 was moved to an overtime contingency account.
That resulted in the approved $345,000 being cut to $245,000, Chief Jeff McCrobie said.
On Jan. 17, 2013, minimum staffing was reduced from 12 on duty to 11 on duty staffing two emergency ambulances. Then, on June 2, 2015, the chief cut reduced staffing to 10 on duty staffing one emergency ambulance.
At the June 1 committee meeting, the department was directed to track the reduction in overtime costs and compare them to the loss of revenue by staffing only one emergency ambulance.
Since going to the 10 personnel minimum levels, the city realized a savings in overtime of $10,944, the chief said. But, during that same timeframe, 34 ambulance calls were lost to Menter ambulance, creating a loss in revenue of $13,430, an overall loss of $2,486, he added.
He’d rather have enough staff to deal with emergencies more than for code duties, he admitted.
City resident Jim Toy asked if the department’s ambulance was out and there was another call, where would that ambulance come from?
It could come from Fair Haven, Mexico or other areas, the chief replied.
Sixty-one times in the last 17 days, the city was left without an emergency ambulance, Toy noted, adding that by the time one of these others arrive on the scene it could be too late.
The city ambulance service is much cheaper than private ambulances, Scriba resident Sue Matthews to the committee.
“They have a better response time, it’s fabulous. It’s a wonderful thing. They do a real good job,” she said.
The Fire Department needs to find the “sweet spot” in balancing the codes duties without compromising public safety, Councilor Ron Kaplewicz said.
“I think they’ve taken great, progressive steps to make that happen,” he said.
Councilor Fran Enwright agreed.
“But we can’t be taking we can’t be taking the money away from codes and fire and expect them to do three jobs with a third of what used to be one (budget),” he said.
City taxpayers have had to deal with a 43 percent tax increase and the council needs to come up with something to show residents that they are working to curb overtime and prevent another large tax hike, Councilor Bill Barlow said.
“If we stick with what the chief is presenting here, that’s something I can live with. I commend him for doing that. I think it’s a step that the council can make to show the taxpayers we’re looking, we’re dissecting, we’re making an attempt to make change,” he said.
The department is still considering several options on how to efficiently deal with the burden of taking on the responsibilities of the former Code Enforcement Department, the chief told the committee.
Since reassigning the codes duties to the Fire Department, the number of building permits issued increased 21.5 percent from 176 to 214, McCrobie told the committee.
Funds collected from building permits, in part due to the increased fees, went up almost 500 percent from $24,013 to $121,451, he said.
Codes personnel, both on and off shift, answered more than 2,000 requests for service in 2014.
Councilor Enwright moved to move the funds back to the overtime budget. Councilor Kaplewicz seconded the motion.
“The overtime has been budgeted. Give it to him,” Councilor Pat McLaughlin said. “But, I would say to (the chief), think of a different way to lower your budget, overtime. Every department here is going to have to think about that.”
The full council will consider the request at its meeting next week.