Judge won’t stop O’burg cuts...for now

Judge won’t stop O’burg cuts...for now
Ogdensburg Fire Department (Source: WWNY)

OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - A judge won’t stop the layoffs of city firefighters in Ogdensburg, at least for the time being.

In a decision Monday, state Supreme Court Justice Mary Farley granted the Ogdensburg firefighters’ union a hearing on January 8, at which the city could be ordered to not make cuts to the fire department.

But Farley did not grant the union’s request for a “temporary restraining order,” which would have blocked the city from making cuts until then.

Of course, any cuts could be reversed as a result of the January 8 hearing. But the judge’s decision Monday appears to give the city a window in which to, at least temporarily, carry out plans to cut firefighters from the city payroll.

“If the city elects to abolish positions this week, it will put public safety at great risk,” said Nathaniel Lambright, the lawyer who represents the firefighters.

“We appreciate the judge not granting the restraining order so we can continue to move forward to ensure the city’s financial survival,” city manager Stephen Jellie said late Monday afternoon.

The city plans to lay off seven firefighters in 2021. In recent days, it has offered a $25,000 fee to any firefighter who retires by the end of the year.

Jellie said so far there have been no takers, and he plans to issue layoff notices in the next day or two, effective with the start of the new year.

“The city council approved a budget that included funding for 20 firefighters. I have 27 on board now, so we need to get to 20. That’s what we have funding for,” Jellie said.

He said he was “really disappointed and a little dismayed” none of the firefighters eligible for retirement had taken the offer of $25,000.

City officials say the layoffs are necessary because Ogdensburg faces a tax and budget crisis; the firefighters say the cuts endanger public safety and violate the contract between them and the city.

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