November 27, 2013
City adds deputy fire chief position
The city Common Council held its third budget meeting Tuesday night, tackling concerns related to a deputy chief’s position for the fire department and the water rate increases.
Once again, a budget meeting was heavily attended by members of the Fire Department upset a deputy chief position was eliminated in the mayor’s proposed budget. Chief Charles Glover defended the need for the position and also suggested ways to overcome a $125,000 shortfall in the city’s budget tied to the position, left vacant when the federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant was removed.
Glover recommended two measures to make up the majority of the $125,000 shortfall — selling an aging aerial truck for $50,000 in an auction and eliminating $30,000 toward the purchase of new vehicles.
“I will cut vehicles before I cut personnel,” Glover said.
The decision to maintain the position would put the city above the 2 percent tax levy threshold, as the council did not want to keep the position based on potential equipment sales or uncertain grant funding. A 1 percent increases in the levy results from just over $52,000 in spending.
The tax levy would increase about 3 percent with the latest budget changes.
Alderman Dan Quail (R-5th Ward) brought up a comparison between the Cortland Fire Department and the one in Oneonta, Otsego County. Both departments have one chief but Cortland has an additional deputy chief and six captains; Oneonta has one additional career firefighter.
Glover contested the comparison, as Oneonta has only one fire station and there are differences in population density and other factors that affect the total number of officers required by the department.
“In my experience, over my 36 years, there’s no two cities that are the same,” Glover said.
Deputy Chief Wayne Friedman, who’s position was slated to be cut, asked the council if the department could roll over any left over money from the current year toward funding the position.
Director of Finance and Administration Mack Cook reminded the Fire Department that its employees banked nearly $250,000 in compensatory, sick and vacation time, which is not included in the yearly budget. City employees have accrued $5.6 million in total uncompensated time.
Supporters of the fire department were agitated by the discussion related to the proposed budget the council was working from that eliminated the position.
“I’ve tried to keep my nose out of other departments,” Glover said, addressing other ways to fund the position. “You’re making this my business because (the Common Council is) going after a position because (the council is) pissed off at the fire department.”
Mayor Brian Tobin immediately denied that allegation, but tensions between the council and Fire Departments remained.
“How many of the fireman actually live in the city and pay taxes?” Quail asked. “There’s a lot of people that feel the taxes a lot more than you guys do that live in the town of Cortlandville.”
The president of the firefighter’s union, Derek Reynolds, said the union is willing to work with the city.
“When it comes negotiation time, I can tell you that our membership has said that we’re going to do what we can in the best good faith to move forward with the city to look at the long-term plans,” Reynolds said.
One cut that the council made was eliminating the full-time zoning officer position, leaving it at only half-time. The current zoning officer, Bruce Weber, is paid $22,500 while working 10 hours per week.
According to Tobin, Weber has considered retirement recently. The Common Council recommended the zoning officer work 20 hours for the same salary.
The Common Council asked that Chris Bistocchi, the director of the city Department of Public Works, explain the needs behind the rate increase to the water budget and hear suggestions to mitigate the cost.
Alderman Julie Bird (D-1st Ward) said she questioned the 25 percent increase to the minimum billing rate for the city, from $28.62 to $35.76. Bird said she only uses about 4 units, or 400 cubic feet, of water per quarter of the 11 units threshold for minimum billing.
Suggestions to limit the effects of the increase included breaking down the minimum billing into two categories and creating another industrial rate for the city’s highest users.
The city will hold a public hearing on the budget during its Dec. 3 meeting and has tentatively scheduled an additional public hearing for Dec. 17 in case additional changes are needed.
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