Setting the stage for Tuesday’s Taylor City Council meeting, firefighters and supporters marched outside city hall to protest layoffs that went into effect July 1. The council Tuesday approved a resolution to restore six firefighter and paramedic positions.
By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – Steps were taken Tuesday to restore the Fire and Police departments to pre-budget cut levels.
“Thank you for unlocking the door,” Fire Chief Bob Tompos said of the city council’s decision to bring back six firefighters who were laid off July 1. “Someone has to knock, someone has to walk through. We appreciate what you’ve done; there’s a lot more to do.”
City Councilors approved a budget amendment Tuesday to restore six firefighter/paramedic positions in the department. Last month the city laid off 48 employees –19 firefighters and paramedics, nine police officers and 29 city workers from various departments –while wrestling with a $12 million budget deficit.
Reducing the Fire Department’s previous roster of 59 was, many said, a threat to the safety of the community and the health of remaining personnel. Since July 1, overtime reserves were tapped in order to maintain minimum staffing levels, putting those on call at risk of too much pressure in too few hours, Tompos said.
“Stress is cumulative,” he said. “The more you do it the more you have.”
Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand said that the current financial problems, including the extent and amount of retirement benefits, are the result of decisions made during healthier fiscal times.
“We waited too long and were too optimistic,” Lamarand said of budget decisions from previous years. “We know the overtime will run out. These are resolutions to buy some time.”
The budget amendment, however, did little to calm what has become a contentious, emotional impasse between public safety unions, city administrators and elected officials. Council members maintained that they can only approve or disapprove the budgets presented by Lamarand and the administration; the mayor said that the city can only operate with available funds.
“I can only spend what’s in there,” Lamarand said.
Brian Schwesing, vice president of the Taylor Firefighters union, said that, properly allocated, the funds exist to restore the department to full strength.
“Why do we need a budget amendment,” Schwesing asked. “The money is there. Why not bring everyone back and let us keep negotiating?”
Councilwoman Cheryl Burke acknowledged the tensions created in recent months, but said that efforts are being made to satisfy as many as possible.
“I know there’s hot feelings, but I think the new chief and staff are doing a great job,” Burke said. “Negotiations are in progress.”
Along with the restored Fire Department positions, negotiations with the Taylor Police Officers Labor Association continue to allow early retirement at 15 years for command officers. Further discussion of the proposed memo of understanding was postponed until the next council meeting, but Lamarand said Thursday that the nine police officers who were laid off last month will return to the force.
“They should be back to work Monday,” he said.
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].)