Could Ogdensburg save money by adding firefighters?

Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 5:10 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Ogdensburg could save $227,000 in one year by hiring four more firefighters. It’s part of an in-depth staffing analysis of the Ogdensburg Fire Department to be presented at Monday night’s city council meeting.

Councillor Mike Powers says he asked for the analysis to be done in an attempt to show his colleagues how the city could save by adding. But another councillor has a different idea.

“Obviously the picture paints itself,” said Powers.

The picture is a 10-year staffing analysis.

“I asked Angela Gray not too long ago, a couple of weeks ago, to show what it would look like had we not removed firefighters from the plot plan, and where we would be had we not done it,” he said.

In 2020, then-city manager and fire chief Stephen Jellie told members manpower levels were going to be lowered from five on-duty members to as little as three.

Citing a violation of its contract with the city, the union responded with a lawsuit and won.

According to the analysis, the city fire department currently has a total of 17 staff members: 12 firefighters, 4 captains and one chief. That number is labeled “unsustainable.” Meanwhile, the analysis says 25 staff members, which would include 16 firefighters, 4 captains, 4 assistant chiefs and one chief, would be ideal.

According to the analysis, by adding four firefighters, the city would save $227,000 in the first year of the 10-year analysis.

A lot of it comes down to overtime. More firefighters mean fewer overtime costs.

“The union, by asking for more men, we’re advocating for a pay cut. Obviously, with overtime and hazard pay, we’re being well compensated,” said Jason Bouchard, Ogdensburg Professional Firefighters Local 1799 president.

Councillor John Riche says the numbers are concerning - looking at the cost of the fire department by 2032.

The city would save money by having 25 members until 2028 when it starts to become more expensive. By the tenth year of the analysis, it would cost the city $6 million in 2032 to run the fire department.

The projection for 2023: the fire department will cost the city $3.8 million.

Riche says a contract adopted by city council years ago is a big part of the problem.

“I would like to see a department that is sustainable, that can operate for the long-term in Ogdensburg, but that won’t happen until someone has the ability to redo that contract,” he said.

Rishe says he may propose the idea of a negotiation team at Monday’s meeting. We reached out to Fire Chief Ken Stull who said he’d wait to comment until after he addresses council.