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Contracts Blamed In FireFighter Overtime;City Unable To Control How Many Take Days Off
Copyright 2006 The Buffalo News
Buffalo News (New York)
Byline:By Brian Meyer - News Staff Reporter
Union contracts hinder City Hall's ability to control how many firefighters take time off and thus are driving up overtime costs, the city's new accountability panel said Friday.
A clause that allows firefighters to take time off with just 24 hours notice compounds problems juggling a shrinking work force, some CitiStat panel members said. "It's crazy," First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey said of a contract that doesn't allow the city to cap the number of firefighters on leave at any given period and permits them to take time off with only a day's notice.
"It's a bad deal for the city," Casey continued as Fire Department officials came under the CitiStat microscope for the first time since the computerized tracking system was launched in June.
Another factor driving up overtime, officials said, involves ongoing difficulties in moving some long-term injured firefighters off the city payroll into the state disability system.
The Fire Department expects to spend nearly $8.4 million for overtime in the next 12 months.
Timothy E. Wanamaker, the city's strategic planning director, also voiced concern that the amount of time off, including personal leave, scheduled sick leave and bereavement leave increased dramatically in the pay period that included Easter and spring break for many school systems.
Most of Friday's two-hour CitiStat meeting involved a presentation by Fire Commissioner Michael S. Lombardo, who walked the six-member panel through many facets of city firefighting operations.
His overview provided the accountability team an opportunity to dissect performance in some divisions. For example, the panel wanted to know why the number of inspections performed by the Fire Prevention Bureau decreased.
The bureau has been hit hard by budget cuts in recent years, and its staff shrunk from 11 to five, including the loss of five fire lieutenants, fire officials said.
It would be difficult to perform more fire inspections given the staff reductions, Bureau Chief Robert J. Stasio said.
"I can't accept the answer that we can't do any more than we're doing now," said Mayor Byron W. Brown, who has used weekly CitiStat meetings to emphasize the need to find more efficient and creative ways to perform services.
But CitiStat officials later said they might consider restoring one or two jobs in fire prevention if the bureau can demonstrate that the positions would generate revenue.
Human Resources Commissioner Leonard A. Matarese renewed his earlier proposal to have firefighters who are assigned to stations throughout the city perform inspections. He acknowledged they would have to be trained, but said the benefits would outweigh the costs.
"You open the door to have hundreds of fire inspections on a regular basis," he said.
Stasio was quick to note that the fire union would have to agree to expanding the work duties of its members. "That is something you're going to have to negotiate with Joe Foley," said Stasio, referring to the fire union president.
No union leaders attended Friday's meeting. The panel focused mainly on human resources issues in the Fire Department, but its review will be expanded in August to include fire operations.
© 2001-2011 City of Buffalo
Photos by Angel Art LTP, compliments of the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau. Additional photos by Adrian Roselli, compliments of Algonquin Studios