OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego Common Council Monday night voted to authorize the city chamberlain to amend the city’s 2013 operating budget (fire department personal services and unclassified revenue lines) in the amount of $145,912. The move abolishes four firefighter positions that have become vacant.
The firefighters’ union contends the positions were going to be filled and are needed to keep the department’s staffing at a safe and efficient level.
Not that long ago, the union filed a grievance against the city in a similar situation. The city lost.
“We just negotiated a contract with the city and ratified it. It’s my intent to make sure the contract is upheld,” said John Geraci, president of the Oswego Firefighters’ Association. “If that facilitates into a grievance, then that is what I will do to uphold the contract. I’m hoping there could be some other resolution to solve things without going through the legal system.”
There is language in the firefighters’ contract that says a vacancy shall be filled within three months.
During his remarks, Ron Kaplewicz, council president, noted that on the list of the top cities for numbers of firefighters per thousand residents, Oswego came in 43rd.
“The president of the council made a strong point to say that we were number 43 on the list of top cities for numbers of firefighters per thousand residents. You would be remiss if you didn’t know how many of those fire departments provide municipal ambulance service as well,” Geraci replied. “It’s comparing apples to oranges.”
Several speakers at the public session urged the council to leave the positions in the budget.
“Each time these men go out to do their job, they’re taking their lives into their own hands,” Kathleen Harris told the councilors.
The city shouldn’t jeopardize them “by taking away the help that they need,” she said.
A retired firefighter also spoke in support of the positions.
“Life you can’t replace. Money, you can find ways to make it. They would give their life to protect you,” he said gesturing to the more than a dozen firefighters in the audience. “Something goes wrong (when you’re fighting a fire) and you’re dead. With less men, it’s more likely to go wrong.”
Geraci pointed out that the firefighters participated in the city budget process and made several cuts and concessions to assist the city in saving money in 2013.
They cut things like the dive team, fire prevention and training, he said, adding, “We did this because we understood these are hard times.”
If the councilors feel the fire department can do with less staff Geraci asked, “Show us what tasks that we can go without.”
He vowed to step up and make hard decisions along side the councilors.
Kaplewicz said there was a lot of misrepresentation of the facts regarding the positions. He contends they were discussed and the possibility of their removal was talked about during the budget process.
“No one is going to lose their job,” he said noting the positions are vacant.
The council can monitor the impact of the cuts, he explained. And, if need be the budget can be amended again, he added.
“A budget can be made. A budget can be amended at any time,” he said. “I know we’re doing this for the right reason. We’re being realistic.”
Voting in favor of the cuts were councilors Kaplewicz, Fran Enwright, Mike Todd and Erik VanBuren.
Voting no were councilors Shawn Walker, Mike Myers and Dan Donovan.