Oswego Firefighters’ Budget Amendment Considered

OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego Fire Department’s budget came under scrutiny during Monday night’s council committee meetings.

Jeff McCrobie, fire chief, presented his 2013 Operational Overtime Study.

The purpose of the study is to explain the inherent causes of operational overtime and the need to fill open vacancies within the department, he explained.

He provided the councilors with a review of the department’s services, operational overtime, staffing needs, safety standards and more.

With the institution of Advanced Life Support, the department’s call time has increased from 27.3 minutes per call to 56.4 minutes, the chief pointed out

And, as directed by the NYS Department of Health, the department is directed to transport all patients to the destination of their choice.

The maximum number of firefighters and/or officers allowed on vacation time at any given time was reduced under the new collective bargaining agreement from four to three. This has drastically reduced the overtime needed to cover for shifts that are short due to illnesses and injuries as well as firefighters out for other reasons, the chief said.

The 2012 year to date overtime was $118,609. For 2013, it is $80,665 (counting the payroll that went in June 3, it is closer to $90,000).

McCrobie added that the department accepted a zero percent raise for both 2012 and 2013, which has also helped keep costs down.

“We have made a lot of changes in the past year, and I think it shows,” he told the councilors.

The fire chief said the department should charge a fee for (ambulance) in city mileage.

“I don’t understand why we don’t do that. I was told to find ways to increase revenue. If you go down to the fort pool, and you live in the city, you don’t get in for free. If you take the ambulance, I don’t know why you wouldn’t pay the mileage,” he said. “It would be a minimum of probably one mile. It would mean $14 on the bill.”

“I think you’ve done your job. I think you showed me that there is some more things that we can do,” Councilor Mike Myers told the chief.

The city didn’t lay off anyone (in the fire department) in the 2013 budget, but through attrition “we were going to begin to recover some of our costs, as firefighters retired or moved on to other places,” Council President Ron Kaplewicz noted. That number, he said, is about $145,000 plus benefits.

“How do we balance the budget in real numbers with the knowledge that we already incorporated taking four (firefighter) positions out of the budget. If we put those positions in, how do we pay for that?” Kaplewicz said. “We don’t know about the additional revenue to support that.”

Councilor Myers recommended the slate of charges recommended by the chief (for Basic Life Support, Advanced Life Support – 1, Advanced Life Support – 2, Mileage, BLS no transport, and ALS no transport) be forwarded to the full council for consideration.

The motion was approved unanimously.

“We can amend and re-amend the city budget as many times as we want to. And by taking those positions at this point and taking them off the books all we are essentially doing is being consistent with what decisions we made in 2012,” Kaplewicz pointed out. “If we find that revenue will meet our ability to hire two to four more positions, those vacancies, that’s when we take action on that.”

If the positions aren’t filled, it will mean less revenue for the city, according to John Geraci, president of the Firefighters’Association.

“If you don’t replace four people and the overtime continues to get spent to keep daily staffing at 11 … we’re going to run out of money. There’s not going to be 11 people, there’s going to be less. You won’t have two ambulances doing calls. We’re going to wind up with less firefighters and less firefighters can to fewer calls. Therefore – less revenue,” he said. “You need these people to do these calls.”

“If you don’t fill the positions, how are you going to make this revenue without the firefighters to do the calls?” he continued.