Trustees vote 6-2 in favor of personnel cuts.
Trustees voted 6-2 in favor of laying off six professional firefighters and one fire lieutenant during an emotional standing room only board meeting Thursday.
The lieutenant, under civil service law, will actually be demoted to firefighter.
Trustees Dennis Donnelly, Nick Episcopia, Laurence Quinn, Brian Daughney and John DeMaro, along with deputy mayor John Watras, voted in favor of the move. Village counsel Gary Fishberg said the cuts will save the village $950,000 per year, citing the cost per firefighter is roughly $154,000 per year.
Mayor Don Brudie and trustee Andrew Cavanaugh opposed the layoffs.
"I am opposed to reducing the staff of a department charged with life saving and property protection responsibilities," he said. "The budget process has just begun and the board is taking these steps without first exploring reductions in other non-life threatening areas where expenditure reductions would not have a draconian impact on our residents, their property and their safety."
"Similar efficiencies can be achieved without these layoffs," added Cavanaugh, who serves as finance chairman.
The majority of those who spoke at Thursday's meeting, including two of the six firefighters laid off and 23-year member Frank Roca, the demoted lieutenant, were outraged by the vote, calling the six trustees cowards.
"You can't even look them in the eyes," a Tullamore Road resident shouted as he made his way out of the boardroom.
Firefighter Peter Thorp
, who's been with the department for seven years, said at 31 years old he can't imagine doing anything else. "I, as a career firefighter, will tell you we can't do our job without the volunteers," he said. "It's a two-way street. One doesn't supplement the other. You've got a great system. It's very short-sighted to give it up for a minimal amount of money."
Fellow firefighter and village resident TJ Michon said the total cost of six firefighters is $105 per household per year or roughly $17.50 per year for each.
"It seems safety really isn't the issue here. It's about money," he said, reminding trustees of the money spent on polls and surveys for St. Paul's and senior needs. "Yet here we are talking about cutting firefighters for a savings of $105 a year," he said.
Fishberg and several of the trustees who voted for the layoffs told Patch after the meeting they didn't know where the firefighters were getting the $105 and $17.50 figures from.
According to village auditor Jim Olivo, there are many variations on calculating the cost to the "average" home - not the least of which is the average value itself. "If one uses the 2013-2014 'all benefits in' cost without overtime, as projected,
(908,159) and subtract that from the tax levy of 2012-2013 you develop a
tax rate drop of $.86," he told Patch Friday. "This represents slightly over 2 percent on the tax rate, and equals $116.10 to a 13,500 assessed home."
A resident of Garfield Street told trustees to knock down St. Paul's to save a buck. "Tear down that monstrosity. It's an eyesore," he said.
After review of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) report and through consultation with the fire chiefs, the board determined the department could operate with four lieutenants and 18 firefighters, resulting in "considerable economic savings" to the village.
When asked, Chief Charles Cavarra stated a risk analysis was performed, as recommended in the ICMA report, and is available to the public.
Cavarra also ensured residents that despite "all these uncomfortable situations" the chiefs did come up with a response matrix to keep the outlying firehouses manned 24/7 and one fire lieutenant for the duration. "I am planning on keeping them open," he said.
Tim Gaynor blasted the board for lack of transparency, stating he had only heard about the possible layoffs through an email he received from a career firefighter the night before. "One hundred dollars to save jobs? Charge me $300. Charge me $500," he said. "It's an outrage. People who left police jobs in the village of Hempstead, NYPD jobs. Where are they going to go now? They're going to go out in this job market and find a job? Are you serious?"
Leo Stimmler, on the other hand, thanked the board for taking the action. "Without this action residents like myself would not be able to continue living in this village," he said. "Last night at the budget meeting I thought I heard pension costs were going up 13 percent in on year … Senior citizens as you may know we haven't had a cost of living adjustment in our Social Security until just before the election when President Obama raised the cost of living adjustment for Social Security. We were living on fixed incomes. Some of us have been retired for five or more years flat so we don't get raises. I think this took a lot of courage. I'd like to thank the chief. I'd like to thank the board of trustees."
Grove Street resident Bob Orosz wanted the board to table the decision. "It was a very disappointing evening," he said. "Appearance means a lot and I think the whole fire department became demoralized and that's going to be a problem going forward … I agree with trustee Cavanaugh things could've been done. It just wasn't handled well."
Brudie, however, is still hopeful. "The collective bargaining issue isn't over so there's a possibility we can come up with some kind of resolution and reverse course here," he said.What's your reaction to the move? Let us know in the comments section below.