OSWEGO, NY – The Administrative Services Committee took no action Monday night on a request by Jeff McCrobie, fire chief, for a budget amendment in the amount of $88,000 from the Fund Balance to Account #A3410.0102.
However, what the councilors plan to do later this week could have long-term ramifications regarding how all departments, not just the fire department, handles staffing and overtime issues.
McCrobie requested the transfer to cover short shift overtime for the department due to various injuries, illnesses, transfers and vacant positions.
The committee took no action on the request deciding rather to get together with the chief, the OFD union rep, mayor and city chamberlain to discuss the issue and see what the root of the problem is and what the city might do to prevent future shortfalls.
Second Ward Councilor Mike Myers said the committee shouldn’t be just a one-shot deal. He suggested having it meet on a regular schedule and look at how all city departments handle these types of issues.
The first meeting will be later this week.
“It’s all about keeping 12 people on duty,” the chief said. “It’s not a contractual number, but it’s a number we’ve operated with. Twenty years ago, there was 18 people on a shift, it was cut back to 16 people on a shift, now 12. When you have injuries and illness, especially some of the long-termers that we’ve had, it’s tough. I just want to keep 12; I think 12 is a safe number for us to operate with.”
Several people have looked through the department’s budget trying to find ways to keep the figure down, McCrobie said.
“It may come out less. I don’t anticipate it coming out more. But you can’t tell when somebody’s going to have an illness or an injury and knock us down some more,” he said. “We’re banging our heads together trying to keep the number at 12 and this is what it comes down to.”
First Ward Councilor Connie Cosemento said Council President Ron Kaplewicz had a suggestion to deal with the situation and it was the same type of solution she was thinking of.
“This is a predicament that we need to treat with more than money,” she pointed out. “We need to sit down, ASAP, and work this out.”
“I did some homework on this, too. And, when you look at the facts and the figures, in 2010 we spent $376,857 on overtime in the fire department. We had originally had budgeted $49,980 for 2011 and that was admittedly probably less than what you asked for chief in order to do the job,” Kaplewicz said. “We all knew that. And we were all hoping we could deal with some of the issues that have been plaguing us with respect to the whole management of the overtime account.”
“The reality is, in July we did appropriate another $150,000 for overtime for this year, and I believe there was about $14,411 transferred for Harborfest,” he added.
According to his figures, it’s a bout 7.5 percent more than they spent in 2010, “and we still have a quarter of the year left to go,” he said.
As a council, they have an obligation and responsibility to sit down and talk about why this problem exists, and what the council can do to help curb the problem, Kaplewicz said.
He suggested a committee of councilors, the fire chief, the mayor, personnel director, union president and the city chamberlain sit down and talk about what can be done to deal with the issue.
“It’s important for all of us to understand why we are in this situation, and what we can do to correct it,” he said.
There is more money being spent, the chief acquiesced, but added, “I’m confident that there is more money coming in.”
The calls to take people to Syracuse (hospitals) have generated more money than the local calls the department handles, the chief noted.
“We need to know the numbers,” the council president said. “We need to look at the big picture, the opportunities to generate revenue, but also what it takes, what it costs us over all, to generate that revenue. Just because the money’s coming in doesn’t necessarily mean that as a council that we should write blank checks. I don’t think anybody wants to write blank checks.”
Despite the committee taking no action, there is a chance the issue could still come to the council floor next week if the councilors agree to waive the rules to discuss it without it being on the agenda that night.