LOCKPORT – The Common Council unanimously passed a 2014 city budget Wednesday that cuts 16 city jobs while raising property taxes slightly.
The $23.7 million spending plan includes the layoffs of eight firefighters, four police officers and one employee from each of four other departments: a building inspector, a streets laborer, an account clerk in the City Clerk’s Office and a Youth and Recreation Department assistant.
The amount to be collected in property taxes rises by 1.7 percent, and the tax rate was set at $15.07 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, an increase of 34 cents.
Spending rises by $1.2 million despite the layoffs. The increase is primarily a function of health insurance and state-mandated pension costs.
Mayor Michael W. Tucker said the budget could be amended to reduce the layoff total if the city wins concessions from unions.
“We still have time, I suppose. The layoffs aren’t going to happen until Jan. 1,” Tucker said.
Council President Anne E. McCaffrey, who two weeks ago called the layoff figures “terrible,” sought to defend the budget Wednesday.
She told the audience that the budget “warrants adoption because it right-sizes our city workforce. It stays under the property tax cap. It maintains essential city services.”
Former Firefighter Mark S. Devine addressed the Council during its pre-meeting work session and again during the formal meeting, urging various arguments to prevent the Fire Department layoffs. Devine’s son is one of those slated to be laid off.
Devine said with the layoff of the most junior firefighters, the department is losing skill and strength.
“These last 10 guys [hired], their qualifications blow everybody away,” he said, noting that many of the 38 firefighters left behind were hired in the 1980s.
“These guys are reaching 50 years old. They’re going to start getting hurt,” Devine said. “The day-after-day pounding, these guys aren’t going to be able to take it.”
Alderwoman Kathryn J. “Kitty” Fogle commented, “It’s too bad Chief (Thomas J.) Passuite doesn’t fight for these men like Mark Devine does.”
Tucker said of Passuite, “He’s not uncooperative.” The mayor also denied Devine’s statement that talks between the city and the firefighters’ union have broken down. “We’re talking, but we haven’t agreed on anything,” Tucker said.
The budget includes a record Fire Department overtime allocation of $512,000. Tucker said if the city succeeds in getting the union to accept a new scheduling format, some of that cost could be avoided.
The budget includes the abolition of the city subsidies for Friday night concerts. Tucker said efforts are being made to find a new concert deal that will avoid city costs.
In another matter Tuesday, the Council granted a special-use permit for Imagine Community Gardens to plant its second garden in the city, at Ontario and Hawley streets. The faith-based group’s first community garden was opened this year at Washburn and South streets.
The Council also rehired FCS Administrators as third-party administrator of its self-funded workers compensation insurance program. Its contract renewal will cost a total of $66,300 for three years.