OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego Common Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve the budget for 2017 – effectively ending the careers of 15 new firefighters. One recent retirement won’t be filled.
The council did what it had to do considering the city’s financial crisis, Council President Shawn Walker said following the vote.
“It was nothing personal,” he explained.
Mayor William Barlow said after the meeting that he hates to see anybody lose their job, “but it’s the reality of the situation. The fact is, the financial situation that the city is in and the numbers the fire department projects, we just can’t afford a department that size.”
The mayor originally proposed a $47.8 million budget with a tax levy increase of 3.87 percent.
Councilors sailed through and handful of amendments Monday night that brought the increase to less than 2 percent.
The figures won’t be official until the City Chamberlain goes over the numbers and confirms them.
There are more positions (for others) in next year’s budget, more equipment and there are improvements for the current equipment. There’s a lot of stuff having money spent on it when we’re over here fighting for needs,” John Gearci, president of the firefighters’ union, said prior to the meeting.
Any time you reduce a department that is responsible for all your emergency services by 27 percent, “there will be impacts,” he told a large crowd of supporters outside City Hall.
“There will be a reduction of services that we can provide,” he said. “There will be a reduction in our ability to protect the city and the citizens of this town, our town. It was perceived as a fiscal crisis that the city was facing. When we took a better look at the budget, we realized that they are paying for the deficit for the water tunnel out of the general fund and increased spending in other departments across the board. This is not a situation where the doors are about to close on City Hall.”
The mayor has maintained that the reductions in the fire department won’t have an impact on public safety.
According to Geraci, the councilors had 10 business days to process the budget information.
“For the type of cuts that we’re talking about, I think those jobs deserve more than 10 days’ consideration, to make a determination as to what’s safe for this city,” he said.
The fight doesn’t end tonight, he told Oswego County Today.
“Our fight continues. It continues tomorrow, it continues next week and it continues next month,” he said. “It’ll continue to two Novembers from now when there are elections again if it needs to.”
He hopes they can re-open discussions and find a way to get through this without cuts and weaken the department’s ability to protect the city, he added.
During the public hearing on the budget, the speakers ranged in age from 8 years old to nearly 100 years old. The common thread was their support of the Oswego Fire Department.
8-year-old Brooke Trevett made a brief statement to the council and then marched up to Mayor Barlow and presented him with a plastic baggie with more than $30, mostly in loose change.
She doesn’t want to see anyone lose their job, she told Oswego County Today.
Geraci also addressed the council. Sam Frisina, president NYS Professional Firefighters’ Association, was also on hand to support the local.
Frisina urged the city to re-open the lines of communication with the union.
“Cutting firefighters should be the last, last resort when there’s nothing left to do,” he told the council.
Kathryn Harris is well into her 90s, yet still remains as active as possible in the affairs of the city.
She said she came to the council meeting because she cares about the city, its people and their protection.
“Do not cause any one of these men to lose their job,” she said of the firefighters whom she referred to as the city’s “protectors.”
“It’s nothing personal against anybody. I didn’t want to do this. It’s a sad situation, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” Walker said following the vote. “We can’t keep kicking the can down the road or we’ll be here again next year. And, I don’t want to see that.”