No change after city, firefighters meet on minimum manning

No change after city, firefighters meet on minimum manning
Seals of the city of Watertown and fire department

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The city and its firefighters union met Thursday to discuss their years long dispute over how many firefighters need to be on duty.

Nothing changed.

Both sides stuck to their guns. If anything’s going to change, the next opportunity will be October 29, when firefighters and the city sit down to negotiate a new contract.

At issue: a long-standing requirement that 15 firefighters be on duty at all times.

During a 90 minute session Thursday, the two sides restated what each already knew. Firefighters see it as a safety issue, and 15 as the bare minimum. The city says it can’t afford that many.

“It’s an inherently dangerous job. The only way we have to mitigate that is through our minimum manning clause and at this point we’re happy with the way things are,” Dan Daugherty, union president, told 7 News Thursday.

“The current system is just not sustainable,” said Watertown’s mayor, Jeff Smith. “We have to reduce that manning so that it still provides a good fire service to our community in a safe manner, but saves us money.”

The city has lost the legal fight over minimum manning, a fight which took years in the courts and cost the city a lot of money.

“I would hope the dollars and cents would start to build up and prove to them they’re not going to get any farther with their strong arm tactics and that actual back and forth negotiation needs to take place,” Daugherty said.

Smith told a reporter the city’s finances are not strong - state aid down by $900,000, pension costs for police and firefighters up by $600,000, sales tax revenue down half a million dollars.

And then in 2029, the city’s contract to sell hydro-electricity ends.

“It’s either going to be a negotiated way of reducing or what’s gonna happen in 2029 when $6 million revenue is gone and the fire department is at the same size, there will be a reckoning,” Smith said.

“And there will be an overwhelming tax increase.”

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