LOCKPORT – In court papers filed Tuesday, Lockport officials asserted that the city will be unable to pay its bills by August unless it is able to reduce the number of firefighters working on each shift.
In a sworn affidavit filed along with the city’s latest lawsuit against the firefighters’ union, City Treasurer Michael E. White said the city will have to borrow to make ends meet, as it did last year, unless the overtime costs in the Fire Department can be quelled.
The new lawsuit is an attempt by the city to obtain a court order blocking the union from obtaining binding state arbitration on the city’s move to cut the minimum staffing on a fire shift from nine to seven firefighters. The suit says the city simply can’t afford to have more firefighters at work.
The Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association went to court May 2 to obtain a temporary order blocking the cuts, which also would have caused the city to take one of its two ambulances and one of its three fire trucks out of service to save money.
State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III has yet to issue a ruling on whether the cutbacks violate an agreement between the city and the union. Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite wrote in a court filing in that case that if the city wins the suit, it probably will do away with its ambulance service altogether.
Tuesday’s lawsuit, filed by Deputy Corporation Counsel David E. Blackley, asserts that the city will run another operating deficit this year, and it would have to be filled by borrowing with another revenue anticipation note, or RAN. The Common Council approved a $2.7 million RAN last Oct. 2.
“If this is addressed immediately, we may not [run a deficit],” McCaffrey said. “The goal is to avoid running a deficit.”
“I find it interesting that the citywide fiscal crisis is laid entirely at the feet of the firefighters’ union,” Kevin W. Pratt, union president, said. “Apparently, we’re the only department that can rescue them from their fiscal mess.”
The city laid off seven firefighters at the beginning of this year, leaving the department with 37 members, not counting Passuite. However, since the union is working under terms of a contract that ran out at the end of 2012, the department is using a four-platoon system crafted for a larger force.
The schedule calls for two platoons to work each day, one for 14 hours and the other for 10 hours, with a minimum manning requirement of nine. If the platoon is under nine because of sicknesses or vacations, members are called in from other platoons, and the call-ins are paid time and a half for the entire shift.
Passuite said in an affidavit that the overtime cost is $500 per man for a 10-hour shift and $700 for a 14-hour shift.
A state audit issued in December found that the city’s general fund was $1.1 million in the hole at the end of 2012, a figure reported incorrectly to the Council. For 2013, the city had an operating deficit of $1.56 million, building the overall negative fund balance to $2.67 million.
“Without the issuance of a RAN, the city’s general fund will have no money to pay expenses as they arise after August 2014,” the city’s lawsuit said.
However, White said the city has been approved for a $1.1 million state grant available only to cities rated on the State Comptroller’s list of fiscally stressed cities, although the check has yet to arrive. He said the city spends about $1 million a month on payroll.
The treasurer said he doesn’t know yet how much the city might have to borrow this year.