Are Ogdensburg job cuts legal? Lawmakers divided on the answer

Updated: May. 7, 2020 at 5:22 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Four Ogdensburg councilors say jobs cuts and tax savings are on the way. Others say it violates the city charter and they'll challenge it.

They listened, bickered and fought. But in the end the vote was 4-to-3 to lay off 7 city employees – including 4 police officers. But will it really happen?

“I had questions with the resolution, what some of the magic math came up with, some of the numbers that they came up with. It's an unlawful direction to give to the city manager,” said Michael Powers, Ogdensburg city councilor.

Powers said parts of the resolution violate the city charter. He plans to get a lawyer to look into it.

Mayor Michael Skelly is just as convinced it's all legal – and necessary.

“We have to start looking out for the taxpayers. The previous council raised the fund balance but they did it on the backs of the taxpayers,” said Skelly.

Wednesday's resolution did not call for cutting firefighter jobs. A previous one did. Skelly said they found that would violate the firefighter's union contract.

“We are hoping the firemen will negotiate and with fairness and do some cuts with their wages,” he said.

Skelly and his council allies say the city faces a $900,000 budget shortfall due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Public comment at Wednesday’s virtual, online council meeting went on for 3 hours.

Police Officer Chris Evans said cutting police officers will increase response times and that could cost lives.

“Eliminating my position not only takes away from my career, but it does an injustice to the residents of the city of Ogdensburg,” said Evans.

The online meeting was preceded by street protests against the cuts.

Municipalities across the county are starting to consider cost cuts. But among the larger ones, so far, no one has moved as aggressively or quickly as Ogdensburg.

Many are hopeful the next stimulus bill will include municipal bailouts. But some are already scurrying to make adjustments to budgets passed before they had even heard of COVID-19.

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