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Budget battle Mayor, council back and forth on staffing cuts

Monday, May 12, 2014 - Updated: 10:19 AM


Mayor Ann Thane had a lot to say Saturday during a Common Council budget meeting, but the council didn't want to hear it.

"I think it's evident that you don't care about operations at all," Thane said to the aldermen. "You don't care to know what's going on in the departments, no matter how important these actions that you're taking in specific positions are."

Thane spent about an hour during Saturday's budget session interjecting her opinion into the council's discussion on hiring cuts for next year's budget.

The first new hire position the council discussed cutting was a keyboard specialist for the Employee Relations Department, with a salary of more than $38,000.

Thane said the position would be vital to the office of Robert Reidy, director of Employee Relations.

"You are taking out this keyboard specialist, and the reason this was put in [the budget] is because Bob Reidy is not in great health and we are looking [to the future]," she said. "I just want the council to understand the impact they have on operations and that is why it's being asked for now so that we can begin to train someone perhaps or be prepared if there is a change in personnel and that is something you should consider."

Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler asked Thane if she wanted to start looking for someone to hire.

"Would you like to go out and start looking for someone now?" Hatzenbuhler said. "We'd have to eliminate Mr. Reidy."

"You can't eliminate the position of Mr. Reidy for a secretary," Thane replied. "We're looking at not having an interruption of service; we hope if we can get someone to assist him then there will be an institutional memory if there is a change. I would strongly oppose eliminating Mr. Reidy because he's tremendously effective in his position and very helpful."

The council, however, did not listen to Thane's advice and eliminated the keyboard specialist from next year's budget.

The next item the council discussed was new hires in both the police and fire departments.

Third Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr. brought up an incident that happened at a council meeting last week in which Police Chief Gregory Culick asked the council not to cut new hires from his force. He said he has 11 officers who will be eligible for retirement this summer and will need to replace them.

"The police academy only trains officers in July and January," Barone said. "Why can't we put in the budget for two people to go to the academy in July? Let them send two, and if two retire then they're replaced."

The council agreed with Barone, but Thane said that action would only increase the budget.

"That just increases your budget and you need to balance your budget," she said.

Barone asked Controller Matthew Agresta to tally a list of the retirement buyouts for all of the eligible retirees on the force before the council takes any action in its budget with the police department.

The council also stumbled over hiring cuts for the city's fire department.

"Here's my suggestion," First Ward Alderman Edward Russo said. "The fire chief is retiring in July. Out of the four battalion chiefs, one of those people will move up to chief. A lieutenant will move up to a battalion chief position. I'd like to eliminate that empty lieutenant position and just have a firefighter there instead. All chiefs and no indians; we need to make some cuts here. I don't want anyone losing their job but I think we need to make some adjustments."

The fire department currently has seven lieutenants and four battalion chiefs, Russo said. He said they're "top-heavy" with lieutenants and eliminating one lieutenant position would create a budgetary decrease. Agresta said the difference would be more than $7,000.

When Fire Chief Richard Liberti joined the meeting, the council asked him what he thought of the idea.

"I guess my answer would be 'sure' if I could understand your rationale behind it," Liberti said.

"Chief, I'm just looking to save some money and I think we're top-heavy on the lieutenants; no disrespect to you," Russo replied.

Liberti told the council that they wouldn't create any savings with the adjustment because a shortage in officers would create time-and-a-half pay for other firefighters.

"It does appear we have a lot of officers, but the truth is we don't have a lot of firefighters," he said. "There probably won't be any savings or reduction in costs because the position won't be filled right away and I'm sure after a period of time the firefighters will put in a grievance saying it's been too long. There's an active list, that's what it's there for. We've maintained for 15 years a minimum of six firefighters on duty and two officers. [This change] is going to put a shortage of officers on duty and there will have to be someone called in to replace the officer, and that person gets paid time and a half every time that happens, so the savings will be minimal."

The council decided to keep the fire department's request for a new firefighter in the budget, since there might be two retirements this summer -- the chief and possibly a battalion chief. However, they didn't cut the lieutenant position.

The council also discussed the Recreation Department's assistant and whether the position should be reduced to part-time, have a reduced salary, or made full-time with duties in different departments.

Hatzenbuhler said the position doesn't have many responsibilities, to which Thane started to disagree but had a phone call she had to take out in the hall. While Thane was in the hall, Hatzenbuhler asked the council if they wanted Thane to leave the meeting.

"Do you want me to ask her to leave?" she asked.

The council didn't reach a conclusions before Thane was back in the room.

When Hatzenbuhler continued to say the recreation department's assistant doesn't have too many responsibilities and could take on duties from other departments, Thane told her "that's not true."

Hatzenbuhler told Thane this wasn't her meeting.

"Excuse me, this is our budget session. We did not sit in on your [session,]" Hatzenbuhler said. "If you're not going to be comfortable sitting there, not interrupting us every five minutes, then I don't know."

"I'll just put my hand up when I want to talk," Thane said.

"No," Hatzenbuhler said. "You can listen."

"I may not participate at all?" Thane asked.

"No, you've already done your budget. We're doing our budget," Hatzenbuhler said.

However, Thane told the council the position already has a lot of responsibilities and any adjustments could hurt the department.

"The recreation assistant is busy 24/7 and is working on classes for youth, is working year-round on the weekly updates to constituents, is doing the email blasts and all of the websites and is interfacing with community people," she said. "You're just impacting operations and you won't really impact the tax rate and you're just hamstringing the recreation department which is the smallest department, honestly. It's just a sliver of your department. In the grand scheme of things you're just going to damage the department and I just cannot imagine why you would cut that back to part-time."

The council agreed the position was created with the employee knowing it might not be budgeted for the following year, however, and they decided to wait to make a decision.

The council will meet again today at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the budget. A public hearing on the spending plan is scheduled Tuesday at 6 p.m. following another budget meeting at 5 p.m. The council is planning to vote on the budget Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.


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