New London City Council fails to ratify firefighters' deal
New London — The City Council refused twice on Monday to ratify an agreement with the firefighters' union that would have saved 25 jobs.
Without the agreement in place, as of 5:30 p.m. today, about a third of the fire department could be laid off. But Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio is expected to suspend the layoffs today, according to Jane Glover, the city's chief administrative officer.
"We are disappointed," Glover said Monday following the vote. "Our team and the union negotiated in good faith."
She said the city will continue to negotiate with the union.
"I expected support from the council,'' said union President Rocco Basilica, who was clearly upset following the vote.
The measure died in a 3-3 vote, with Councilors Wade Hyslop, Donald Macrino and Anthony Nolan voting for the renegotiated contract. Councilors John Maynard, Adam Sprecace and Marie Friess-McSparran voted no.
Council President Michael Passero, who is a firefighter, recused himself from the vote and the discussion.
Maynard said he could not support the agreement, which has not been made public, because it included a change to a defined benefit retirement plan, which he said would cost the city $4 million. He said the $4 million would be bonded over 30 years, costing taxpayers even more money in interest.
"I'm glad to see the union's gotten everything it's needed to save their jobs,'' Maynard said. "Although I respect and admire all of our firefighters and everything they do ... I'm looking out for taxpayers first."
Basilica said Maynard was misinformed.
"At this point I'm disgusted with the process,'' he said. "I thought we had a deal."
He said firefighters gave up a 2 1/4 percent raise in July and a 2 percent raise in January, saving the city about $200,000. The agreement also reduced mandatory staffing levels from 18 to 16 per shift, at an annual savings of about $460,000, and the union agreed it would not fill nine positions that are currently vacant, saving the city an additional $750,000, he said.
"This was all savings for the city of New London,'' Basilica said.
Later in the meeting, the council voted to reconsider the action. After a 30-minute, closed-door session with the city attorney and finance director, the council reconvened and despite efforts by Hyslop to sway those who voted against the amended contract to change their minds, the effort failed again in a tie.
"I'm constantly hearing public safety, public safety, and we don't want to see layoffs,'' Hyslop said. "The fire department has conceded quite a bit. We should pass it so these men and women will not be laid off."
Friess-McSparran said she did not have enough information on the defined retirement benefit to approve the contract.
"I've been struggling with this all weekend,'' she said.
Sprecace said there were some parts of the agreement that he felt would affect the long-term financial status of the city but because the contract is not public until it is ratified by the council, he could not discuss the details.
"I have to express my frustration,'' he said.
Last week, the council discussed the Local 1522 agreement in a closed-door meeting but took on action. It was expected to approve the agreement at Monday.
Finizio handed out 25 layoff notices to firefighters in May, which were effective June 30, in an effort to save more than $500,000 in the 2012-13 budget. Last week, Finizio suspended those notices to 5:30 p.m. today.
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