GLOVERSVILLE -- City leaders have abandoned a resolution to allocate $50,000 to an ad campaign touting a possible November referendum aimed at downsizing the city’s fire department.
If placed on the ballot and passed by city residents, the referendum would convert the Gloversville Fire Department to a hybrid volunteer-career agency. The department is currently staffed by 28 full-time career firefighters.
City officials said they would put the question on the November ballot if the fire department cannot find $1.2 million in savings over the next four years. Officials believe the department is overstaffed and that salaries are bloated by unnecessary overtime costs.
According to Mayor Dayton King, the council at its Tuesday meeting decided against allocating the funds as a sign of good faith toward the union. The campaign was meant to educate voters about a possible referendum and why the city was seeking cuts in the fire department.
The union labeled the referendum as potentially harmful to public safety and said the city’s planned ad campaign amounted to using public money to fund a political agenda.
King said the council’s decision to back off from publicly funding the ad campaign was not a reaction to the union’s criticism, but rather a peace offering.
“We paused the resolution and basically reserve the right, certainly, to transfer that money later, but right now, it’s just a good-faith effort,” said King.
The union last month offered the city a deal that it said would save more than a million dollars over the next four years, but that deal was rebuffed by the city. King said the union’s plan would only save money if it were guaranteed that firefighters approaching retirement do so.
King is hopeful the two sides can meet without mediation from PERB. He said the city is looking to trim the department to 24 members through attrition. He added that the $1.2 million in savings the city is looking for is negotiable.
“It’s not a hard $1.2 [million],” said King. “I think the key is to reduce the total number of guys in the department.”
King said he hopes city officials and the fire department can meet within the next 10 days, and that the dispute with the department has amounted to a distraction.
“We are motivated to get this done because we have other projects,” said King, pointing to the city’s pursuit of a $10 million development grant.
Local 719 President Edward Martelle said he and the union are confident a deal can be struck.
“That’s what our goal has been from the beginning,” he said.
He characterized the union’s previous offer as fair, and said that, among 12 department members who are eligible to retire, it would have been a good bet that four would choose to do so over the next four years.
“That was a very honest proposal that saves the city real money, over a million dollars, depending on how you look at it,” Martelle said.
He added that the union is waiting to be contacted by a PERB mediator who will then set up a meeting between the city and Local 719.
“We have a mediator identified, and they have to get in touch with us now,” said Martelle.