Mayor calls for drastic police, fire department cuts

Tim Cook/The Day New London Firefighter Steve Wargo watches the traffic on Bank Street in between calls at New London Fire Headquarters Thursday. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced early Thursday night that 25 firefighters and 10 police officers will be given layoff notices as of June 1.

New London — Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced personnel cuts Thursday that could reduce the fire department by 30 percent and the police department by 11 percent.

Ten police department and 25 fire department employees will be given layoff notices by June 1 "due to reductions in the administration's proposed budget," the mayor said.

"Public safety is the highest priority for the City administration," Finizio said in a press release. "These cuts are draconian and particularly difficult, but under current budget levels, and current contractual obligations, they are sadly unavoidable."

The layoffs are in addition to the 11 vacancies in the police department and five vacancies in the fire department that will not be filled, according to the release, emailed Thursday evening. The cuts are estimated to save the city about $1.2 million.

City Council Michael Passero criticized the mayor, saying Finizio's announcement "is pure 100 percent grandstanding and 100 percent politics."

"If he wants to jeopardize public safety in this city by unnecessarily laying off public safety employees, it's on his head. He's made no effort to share this information with the City Council, and in fact he has misled us," Passero said, who is also a city firefighter. "We got it the same time he released it to the press. No warning, nothing."

Last in, first out

There are currently 80 fire department employees and about 90 police department employees.

The fire department would receive about $8.9 million under the City Council's proposed 2012-13 budget, about $800,000 more than the current year's estimated budget.

Bernadette Welch, the city's personnel coordinator, said both public safety unions operate under the "last one in, first one out" system of seniority in the face of layoffs. If 25 fire positions were eliminated, Welch said, everyone hired in the new millennium — since 2000 — would lose their jobs. She said the savings from the fire department layoffs would be about $545,000.

The number appears low, she said, because the fire union contract includes a "minimum manning" clause that requires a certain number of firefighters to be on duty each shift. Thus, she said, the savings is in benefits, not wages.

"First out" in the fire department would include Alfred Mayo, the most recent hire. The first black firefighter hired by the department since 1978, Mayo was fired and pulled from the state fire academy in December, only to be rehired two weeks ago.

Rocco Basilica, the firefighter's union president, said the union will "meet with the city face to face and see what they have to say."

"In the mean time, we'll serve the citizens of New London,'' he said, adding that he's still "very excited'' that the city hired a new firefighter two weeks ago.

'Didn't see this coming'

In the City Council's proposed budget, the police department would receive about $12 million, about the same as this year's estimated budget.

Welch said all police employees hired since 2010 would be laid off, for a savings of close to $581,000.

Police union president Todd Lynch said Thursday he was "astonished" by the announcement. He said union members are scheduled to meet with the mayor's administration early next week.

"I certainly didn't see this coming," Lynch said.

The news of the layoffs came just days before Peter Reichard is set to start work as the police department's new deputy chief. Reichard begins work Monday, the mayor's office has confirmed, and is scheduled to earn $100,500 in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

"I find it troubling that while we're announcing laying off 10 officers, boots on the ground, we're making plans to hire an administrator," Lynch said. "We're going to listen to what they have to say."

Finizio said negotiations will begin with both the police and fire unions "to look for ways to alleviate the impact of budget reductions on City services and public safety staffing needs."

Jane Glover, the mayor's chief administrative officer, will head the city's labor negotiating team, the release says.

The City Council and Finance Department have tentatively agreed on an $83 million budget for the next fiscal year, which will require an 8.3 percent increase in taxes.

When it was approved, Finizio called the council's budget "bare bones" but said he would not veto it. At the time, Finizio told the council an additional $900,000 could be saved if the city successfully negotiates with the fire department to allow for deferred retirements.

Passero said the council passed a budget that would support all of the city's contractual obligations.

"He's given us no indication that he would need these kind of reductions," Passero said. "If he was playing fair, and this decision was fair, he would have been meeting with the council and the Finance Department and discussed this."

The council is expected to vote on the budget on Monday.

s.goldstein@theday.com

k.edgecomb@theday.com

New London firefighter Steve Wargo, left, talks with Lt. Victor Spinnato in front of New London Fire Headquarters on Bank Street Thursday night after the mayor’s layoffs announcement.
Tim Cook/The Day New London firefighter Steve Wargo, left, talks with Lt. Victor Spinnato in front of New London Fire Headquarters on Bank Street Thursday night after the mayor’s layoffs announcement.
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