OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - Ogdensburg’s controversial 2021 budget passed in a split vote Wednesday night.
What changes? In the new year, city residents will see a 10 percent tax rate decrease.
The budget also calls for removing seven firefighters. That’s down from the initial plan to cut 10.
As controversial votes in the city often are, this one was split 3 to 4 with the mayor and his coalition voting to pass it and councillors Dan Skamperle, Mike Powers, and Nicole Kennedy voting it down
“There’s no way I can vote for this in good conscience,” Skamperle said. “It could cost the city taxpayers millions and millions of dollars unnecessarily.”
Earlier Wednesday, fire union president Jason Bouchard sent a letter to the city. It had three proposals: cutting the number of firefighters allowed to vacation at the same time, losing an EMT stipend for the next two years, and agreeing to have three firefighters take an early retirement incentive.
Bouchard says this would save the city more than $2 million over the five-year collective bargaining agreement.
“Over the course of time it has the potential to save the city a little over $2 million,” Powers said. “I don’t see how that can’t be taken in good faith.”
City manager Stephen Jellie says the union’s proposal doesn’t do enough to reduce the size of the department.
“We need the staffing reductions,” Jellie said. This isn’t a popular reduction by any stretch. I think this is also not a popularity contest. We are trying to save a city.”
Despite the proposed amendments to the collective bargaining agreement, Jellie says he doesn’t feel the union has truly sat down to negotiate yet and says he’s still willing to talk.
The union has been adamant that it does not want a budget that would cut firefighter jobs.
Here’s a closer look at the proposal from firefighter union president Bouchard.
The union is offering three changes to the existing contract.
The first reduces the number of members allowed to take vacation at the same time, which Bouchard says would reduce overtime and save $200,000 a year.
The second would cut an EMT stipend and save the city $23,000 in 2021 and again in 2022.
The third is an agreement for three firefighters to each take a $20,000 buyout and retire early. That would reduce the department’s size to 24 members and save $210,000 dollars this year and $270,000 a year for the rest of the contract.
Bouchard says this would save the city more than $2 million over the five-year length of the collective bargaining agreement.
The proposal also demands that firefighter positions set to be cut in the budget be restored.
City manager Jellie said the union’s proposal doesn’t move the needle.
A motion to wait until Monday to allow the public more time to review the union’s proposals was shot down in a 4 to 3 vote.