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Mayor James J. Fiorentini
Speech - Keep the Bradford Fire Station Open Full time* - October 5, 2004
City of Haverhill Massachusetts
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Tonight I am here to review and summarize the proposals I gave earlier to the Council to keep the Bradford Fire station open, and pay for it within our budget. I first submitted this to the Council a month ago. The Council wisely, did not want to vote on this right away, you had a number of questions, all good ones and you wanted time to gather information. I know that a number of councilors have called various department heads with questions and we have tried to answer all of them. As additional questions have come up during the week we have tried to answer those, and I have our two department heads here this evening in case there are further questions.

Haverhill. Massachusetts Mayor James J. Fiorentini
Haverhill, MA Mayor
James J. Fiorentini
   

Let me give you a brief summary of the this agreement.

The city has an existing agreement with the fire department that calls for 21 suppression firefighters to be on duty at all times. If one fire fighter is out, we are required to fill that position at overtime rates. We can not transfer a person from station to station—we are required to bring in an additional person.

This has resulted over the past few years in a fire department salary budget that we simply can no longer afford.

Here are numbers for our fire department salary budget over the past few years—this number includes salary, overtime, sick pay, vacation pay etc.

As you can see, the salary budget went down dramatically over the past two years. The primary reason for this was two-fold: first the interim agreement reached with the firefighters a year ago that allowed what is called roller skating. Roller skating means that if a firefighter is out, that we can now transfer a person from one station to another if we pay that person overtime rates. Notice how this is different from the agreement prior to a year ago—the old agreement, we had to bring in a person at overtime rates: we paid the person who was out, plus a new person at overtime rates, resulting in paying 2 and half times for one slot. Under the new agreement, we paid one person at overtime rates, we paid one and half times for one slot.

The second reason that the total salary budget went down is that we no longer kept the Bradford Fire Station open on a full time basis. It was our estimate that the station was open 50% of the time last year—FY 04. This year, I added some money to the overtime budget and we estimated that it would be open more, but still not full time.

The firefighters and I have been negotiating since I took office in January. We have been unable to reach agreement on the most substantive issues—health-care reform and salaries. It appears that we are headed to mediation or arbitration.

At the last session I attended, we discussed what interim agreement we could reach while we continued to disagree. We all came to one conclusion—we did not want the people of Bradford to suffer while we continued to negotiate.

The agreement that we reached is simple: we reduce the minimum manning from 21 under the old agreement to 19, and we allow 8 people, normally 2 per shift to be transferred without payment of overtime. This allows Bradford to be kept open.

I have made a chart of how this works.

Agreement date

Minimum number per shift

Overtime arrangement

Required man hours if person out

Old agreement

21

No transfers—bring in new person at overtime rates

2.5

“interim agreement”-- expired

17

Roller skating—pay overtime

1.5

New agreement

19

Floaters—no overtime unless fall below 19 men

1

This agreement still results in our paying overtime. If there are more than two people out on a particular day, we still need to pay overtime to bring someone else in. We are expanding service, keeping Bradford open, so we know that that is an additional cost. I think it is a service that everyone here on the Council wants and that the community overwhelmingly wants.

If we simply went by the old agreement and kept Bradford open, we would pay a cost of $400,000. We estimate that the cost under this new agreement is $188,000. To put it another way, if we did not have this agreement and we simply decided to pay the money and keep Bradford open, then we would have an additional cost of $210,000. Under this agreement, we are saving around $200,000.

Here is a chart that shows that:

The Cost of Keeping Bradford Open

Agreement date

Cost to keep Bradford Open

Old agreement

Interim agreement

New agreement

Our last chart, shows you the decrease in the firefighters salary budget over the years.

Year

Salary Budget

FY 02

FY 03

FY 04

FY 05

As you an see, even with the additional $188,000, our total salary budget is still $____ below what it was in FY 03.

Now is this agreement perfect? Absolutely not. We were able to achieve substantial savings thanks to these concessions from the firefighters and I thank them publicly for it. We still have a long way to go—with health care reform, with combined dispatch.

I know that some questions have been raised regarding this agreement. We have tried to supply you with the answers to all the questions that have been received, and as more questions have come in, we have tried to answer those also. The questions have been good ones, and I thank the council for asking them.

One question that I would ask if I were on the council, although no one has asked it directly I know that it will be asked tonight, is this: is there another way to keep the Bradford fire station open. The answer is this: this is the best way.

You could also keep the station open by transferring people from dispatch to fire suppression, something that is an important goal and one that this administration will work on. Even if we could achieve that in negotiations, this is a better solution. If we did that, we would still have what are frankly, terrible overtime rules in place. Combined dispatch or civilian dispatch saves us some money and I do support it, but someone still has to answer the telephones. That someone has to be paid, they have to get benefits and they quickly get unionized. The savings is much smaller than these concessions on overtime. I feel that these overtime concessions are _________ and ending these overtime rules were my top negotiating goal. We did not end them, but we did mend them. We had to give something to get that, and I feel it is well worth giving—the 19 man minimum and the small increase in senior fight righter pay.

The second question that I know that councilors have is a good one, and one that I wrestled with myself—how do we pay for all this?

 

*Source: City of Haverhill, Massachusetts Web Site: www.ci.haverhill.ma.us 2-16-05

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