Fire contracts spark latest budget battle

Taylor in ‘financial emergency,’ mayor says

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR — It’s a time of uncertainty for the city, its fire department and staff. Whether 15 laid-off firefighters will return to duty remains to be seen, as does the financial impact of a recent court ruling.

“There’s no money, there’s no better way to say it,” City Council Chairwoman Cheryl Burke said. “I don’t see where we’re going to get the money.”

The year ended with a Dec. 30 ruling that Taylor must restore to duty 15 firefighters who were laid off in June 2011. The subsequent arbitration process concluded last month with a decision that the city owed full back pay to those laid off, and that current staffing levels violate Taylor’s contract with International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1252.

The city offered a proposal to restore the department to 53 firefighters — from its current 38 — and requested concessions on minimum staffing requirements. Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand said a Thursday mediation session is scheduled, and while union officials consider the offer, the city must weigh its budgetary options and review the actual impact of back pay and benefits owed.

“We need to be prepared for everything at this point,” Lamarand said. “We wouldn’t have laid them off if we had the money, and we don’t have the money to pay the back pay or bring them back to work.”

Among the considerations could be contracting for emergency and ambulance services. Taylor Fire Chief Bob Tompos said Friday he initiated conversations with private companies should that change be necessary.

“That’s one of the contingencies that has to be prepared for,” Tompos said.

Should the transition be needed, it would take at least a month to approve and institute, and Tompos said he knows there will be a limited window of time.

“My responsibility is to the citizens, we can’t leave them unprepared,” Tompos said. “I’ll work with what I have.”

If the state’s ruling stands and the firefighters return to duty and collect back pay, Burke said that the city will be forced to consider other layoffs or service reductions, from shorter hours to staff considerations. Advanced medical services were privately contracted prior to 1999, one of many adjustments that may be required.

“Many communities like us make similar tough choices,” Burke said. “There will be cuts again. The administration will have to be creative.” Burke noted that the clerk’s office closes now on Thursdays, one example of reduced hours made to compensate for budget restrictions.

The new year for Taylor bears a resemblance to 2011, as annual budget projections reveal too many shortfalls for the city to maintain existing levels of staff and services. Lamarand said employees and residents need to realize the severity of the situation.

“We are under financial emergency, I said the same thing a year ago” Lamarand said. “This isn’t anything new. Every day we get closer and closer to running out of cash.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)

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