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Fire, police make case to Council

Posted by Alix Roy  June 18, 2010 10:13 AM

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Members of the Police and Fire departments stood silently at the rear of the City Council chambers during Thursday night's hearing on the fiscal 2011 budget, which proposes deep cuts to both forces if health insurance concessions are not made.

Only one member - Patrolman's Association president Michael Polston - approached the podium to speak to the council, which was presented with the budget by Mayor Richard Howard on Tuesday.

"The cuts for us are significant and it's going to be a major public safety concern for everyone in the city," Polston said. "We're losing 25 police officers, which is currently almost a quarter of our Police Department."

Four of the officers are new hires that joined the force just a few weeks ago, and were told last week that they would attend the police academy, he said. This week, that promise was revoked, and at least one of the men has nowhere to turn.

"At least one of them cannot go back to his job, he was actually escorted off the property because he gave them short notice," Polston said. "What are the intentions with these gentlemen? I don't know what to tell them."

Howard has threatened to cut 13 to 16 positions each from the fire and police departments and leave an additional 10 vacant police jobs unfilled  if their unions do not agree to a proposed one-year health insurance plan that requires larger contributions, increased co-pays, and deductibles of $500 for individuals and $1,000 for family plans.
 
Unions representing teachers and librarians already have agreed to the insurance plan, resulting in a reduction in proposed cuts and layoffs in both departments. The School Department, which initially faced $3 million in cuts, will now be trimmed $1.5 million and lose no more than 10 positions while the library department, which was slated to lose two positions, has had all cuts restored.

"It's my hope that all or nearly all employee groups will reflect on this proposal and commit to engage in it for at least a year," Howard said on Tuesday. He was not present at Thursday's budget hearing.
 
On Wednesday, Malden Fire Fighters Union Local 902 President Brian Parow said shouldering increased benefit costs would be a burden for employees with families already facing level pay.

"I have three kids so this is probably a 6 percent pay cut for me," he said.

At Thursday's hearing, Ward 5 Councilor Barbara Murphy urged members of the both departments to make sacrifices to save jobs.
 
"I would hope that you would all rise to the challenge," said Murphy, whose husband's high school teaching position was cut last year. "Look at the fellow sitting beside you and realize that they have a family, they have to put food on the table, they have to pay the mortgage. If you get into the 'what's best for me' you're probably going to leave one of your coworkers out in the cold."

Some councilors debated attempting to postpone cuts until the exact amount of state aid is known, a move that would require a “one-12fth budget” in which communities wait to certify a budget while spending one-12th of the previous year's budget during each one-month interval. Such measures are generally reserved for emergencies, said Ward 4 Councilor Jim Nestor.
 
"I consider this an emergency, I do," said Councilor-at-Large Deborah Fallon. "Are there going to be discussions had about offering up a one-12th budget?"

City Controller Domenic Fermano said no such discussions had begun.
 
"It just doesn't close the gap that we're looking to close," he said. "All it does is just prolong [it] another 30 days or 60 days."
 
Ward 2 Councilor Paul Condon said if state aid does fluctuate, it will likely be through 9C cuts, which occur when revenues fall short.
 
"I'm not optimistic about any kind of money coming in from the state," he said. "We have to come out of this thing with a balanced budget. I don't know what the answer is but I know anyone sitting on this council doesn't want to lay off public safety."

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