OSWEGO, NY – Representatives from the city fire department will once again sit down with city officials in an effort to find a way to run the department more efficiently.
At Monday night’s meeting of the Administrative Services Committee,
Jeff McCrobie, fire chief, requested authorization to do an intra-departmental transfer of funds from the following accounts:
$ 5,000 from Account A.3410.0410 (Materials and Supplies)
$ 4,000 from Account A.3410.0450 (Fees for Service)
$10,000 from Account A.3410.0460 (Training)
All the funds are to be moved to Account A.3410.0102 (Personal Services).
This transfer is to cover overtime expenses due to short shift caused by miscellaneous reasons such as personal injuries, worker compensation injuries, 207-A employees, disability retirement employee(s) and administrative leave employee(s), the chief explained.
The committee gave the request a favorable recommendation.
McCrobie then requested a discussion regarding the Oswego Fire Department’s budget.
After a lengthy exchange of ideas and opinions, both sides agreed to get together as soon as possible to find an amicable long-term solution to the situation.
The department’s budget “is about as bare bones as I can go,” McCrobie told the councilors.
Budgeted overtime for OFD was $279,000.
“Through the budget process, it was reduced to $275,000,” McCrobie said, adding that the budget was created last summer under the old guidelines.
“It was just too early” to accurately determine how things would play out for the coming year, he explained.
The budget process was changed by resolution in 2002 after the council decided to allow the public to have a say if the proposed budget has a tax increase of 5 percent or more.
That meant the mayor had to present his proposed spending plan to the council by Aug. 1 and the council had to approve it by Aug. 31.
However, now the state has come up with a 2 percent cap. And, so the council rescinded the 2002 resolution. Now, the proposed budget must be presented to the council no later than Dec. 1 and council has to approve a budget no later than Dec. 31.
In 2010, overtime for the department was $373,858 and in 2011 it was $512,289, according to the chief’s figures.
He attributes much of the problem to trying to fill shifts that have been devastated by firefighters being out due to injuries or other reasons.
“Five people from the department have not worked a day yet in 2012, and I do have to replace them and that does cost money,” McCrobie said. “I attempt to keep 12 people on duty for each shift. That’s the lowest number I feel safe to operate with.”
Mileage from the out of town ambulance calls before any billing is paid, either fully or partially reimburses the overtime costs used to fill in for a couple of (firefighters) when the go to Syracuse, the chief said. They also include $100 per trip for wear and tear, gas and other expenses, he added.
It is anticipated the ambulance service should bring in about $1.2 million in revenue for the city.
“Calls are going up every year, the majority being EMS calls,” the chief said.
“I’ve made some administrative moves that will help get through part if this year,” the he added.
They have been trying to get the new hires ready as quickly as possible. And, he stopped sending any new hires to the fire academy this fall to keep them available now. He will send them to the academy next spring, he noted.
As of right now, he feels it will take about $190,000 to get through the rest of the year.
“We provide a good service. I’ve got as lot of confidence in it. I think we’re covering calls better than any service around here,” he said. “It does cost money but I’m proud of the effort we’re given and I know we are covering the calls when we get them. The alternative may be not to cover all the calls as they come up.”
“This is a discussion we had last year. It was about this time of year when we began the discussion on overtime. One of the things we worked very hard at, in fact had several meetings on last year, was how we could begin to get a handle on the amount of OT and how do we better give you the tools to administer that pot of money within your department,” Council President Ron Kaplewicz told the chief. “There are obviously a lot of challenges before us.”
Councilor Dan Donovan wondered where the city could come up with the $190,000.
“Our main goal for 2012 is to sit down and hash out some ways we could save both sides some money,” Councilor Mike Myers said. “It has to come from both sides, give and take from both sides.”
He said he wants to sit down with representatives from the department and find ways to save money, “but, it’s got to be a give and take,” he added. “It’s got to be something we can both agree on.”
He said he’d like to get together with the department as soon as possible and work together on finding a solution.
John Geraci, president of the Firefighters’ Association, said he is looking forward to sitting down with the city.
“These problems aren’t new,” he said. “We don’t want more overtime. I’m speaking for the men down there; we’d like to do without it.”
The anticipated revenue for the department was $1.2 million last year; the final collection rate was $1.27 million, he said.
“It’s not every day you find a department that meets or exceeds anticipated revenue in municipal government,” he said. “The question you have in front of you today is are you going to put money back into the department that creates that revenue? And, if you don’t, you have to ask yourself will we still meet that anticipated revenue?”
“It’s very important that we do sit down, because it’s a major problem,” Myers said.
Councilor Mike Todd agreed that overtime isn’t a solution.
“We have to come up with a better way to fill these positions as quickly as we can so we don’t have these problems. We just absolutely have to do that,” he said. “We have got to get this under control. But we also have got to not handcuff the situation at the same time.”