OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - The city of Ogdensburg says it can not afford its fire department as it is today and the city manager’s solution is a non-starter for the firefighters' union.
City Manager Stephen Jellie is asking the fire department to consider transitioning to a part-paid and part-volunteer service. But that plan is getting pushback from first responders.
“I will not comment on anything that has to do with us being volunteer because I don’t think it’s realistic,” said Ogdensburg Professional Firefighters Local 1799 president Jason Bouchard.
He says the union does not support the plan to change the department as city leaders look for ways to cut costs. He calls it a reckless move by Mayor Mike Skelly and Jellie.
“I am a retired fire chief. This is not anything that is personal. I certainly support the fire department. I certainly support the profession. This city just cannot afford the fire department’s structure and city of the organization that we have,” said Jellie.
Earlier Monday evening, firefighters stood at the front steps of city hall, making their case against the expected appointment of Jellie as permanent city manager.
The firefighters' union claims that in the short term Jellie has been interim city manager, he has repeatedly violated the rights of rank-and-file firefighters.
But Jellie says he has tried to work with the union on several occasions to come up with a money saving solution to no avail.
“The city is largely open to all options. The mayor has certainly said he’s open to an entire volunteer force if need be. I don’t think operationally that is something we can move toward immediately, but I think we have to be moving toward at least a part volunteer force. But we’ve largely gone to the group and said, ‘What other solutions do you have? At least sit down and negotiate with us, help us brainstorm, come up with ideas.’ And they just flat refused,” he said.
“If we get confirmation from our economic expert that’s looking into the city’s finances that they’re in such dire straits and a stimulus package does not come through, of course we would sit down. We will sit down and listen, but it doesn’t mean we would cut our own throats and offer something to give up that they want to take away anything by a volunteer group,” said Bouchard.