Published June 03. 2012 4:00AM Updated June 03. 2012 2:10PM
The New London Fire Department is a great department and I do not want to see even one member lose his job. However, every single department in city government is facing layoffs and administrative positions have been eliminated as well. More than 60 teachers have received lay-off notices. Every layoff is a tragedy for every worker's family.
The administration announced public safety layoffs before the council's final budget vote so that funding could be restored by tax revenue, if the council so desired. The council acted in a different, and dangerous, other way.
The council eliminated funding for a development director who has already assisted in bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funds to the city. They eliminated funding for an assistant city clerk that the city law director has confirmed they cannot legally do. The council eliminated a risk manager who saves the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in reduced liability costs. The list goes on of essential positions in city government cut to transfer funds to public safety, mostly to the fire department.
Most concerning is that the council also overestimated city revenues by more than a quarter of a million dollars, according to the city finance director. Revenue overestimations are what caused our budget deficit in the first place and, with no city reserves to back us up, such a repeat performance could push New London into bankruptcy.
All this was done after both the fire union and the administration agreed publically that our positions are not far apart and that we both have zero layoffs as our goal. The council's actions were not taken to just avoid layoffs, they were taken to fully honor one department's contract by sacrificing all others.
In New London, a very small geographic area city, our fire contract mandates that 18 members be on shift 24 hours a day. Compare this to other surrounding, larger, communities: Norwich, 12; East Lyme 7; Montville, 1; Groton 8; Ledyard, 4; Waterford, no minimum! A reduction of 18 per shift to 16 in New London could save the city a half a million dollars with no impact on public safety. A reduction from 18 to 14 would save a million dollars and allow the city to give firefighters the pension plan they have sought for years. This would allow older members to retire, reducing risk of job injury or death, creating further savings, and enhancing public safety.
Also, New London has a paid fire department with 79 paid members compared to 7 in Waterford, 7 in East Lyme, 9 in Montville, 4 in Ledyard, and 32 in Groton. Most other communities use volunteer firefighters. These other communities have near identical response times as New London.
As teacher layoffs were announced, administrative positions cut, layoffs announced in public works, Council President Michael Passero responded in this paper; "I am encouraged by the positive attitude and constructive solutions that the administration has generated as they make the necessary adjustments for the significant loss of revenue facing the city."
When the cuts finally reached the department in which he serves as an employee, and for whose union he has served as an attorney, all of a sudden he has accused me personally of being "cruel," of "lacking humanity" and "lying." The sudden change in tone has an obvious source and it is not administration policy, it is a glaring conflict of interest.
I do not want to see anyone lose their job. I do not want anyone to lose their business, or home, due to a tax hike. Pain will be borne by all with this budget, but it must be borne fairly. Every department, employee, business, and taxpayer must contribute; and every politician, must be prepared to compromise.
If the current budget is not adjusted to account for the errors contained within it, and if public safety unions are unwilling to make even the most modest of concessions, all layoffs will proceed as planned. I do not want this to happen, but I assure the unions, I do not bluff. I also assure all New London taxpayers, that our budget will be honestly balanced, and that the burden will be borne equitably.
Daryl Justin Finizio is the mayor of New London.