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Malden finds money to keep some police officers, firefighters

Posted by Matt Byrne  August 4, 2010 04:02 PM

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After their unions refused to accept a more expensive health insurance plan, 10 Malden Police officers and three firefighters were saved from a round of layoffs after they were notified hours before a hearing that the city cobbled together funding to keep them on the job for at least another year.  

About $500,000 was assembled for the police through redirected grants and budgetary maneuvering, said Police Chief James Holland.

"It took some time," he said, of the late-breaking funding announcement. 

The Fire Department also received about $150,000 last minute, saving three positions. Ten firefighters were not so lucky, however, and are expected to be laid off by the end of the week, a representative for the fire union said.

The notices heading off the police layoffs came on the eve of legally required Civil Service hearings held by the commissioners of the fire and police departments, legal representation for the city, and the fire and police chiefs.

A reduction in state aid led Mayor Richard Howard and city officials to close a $10 milllion budget gap this year, with most of the difference extracted from the city's collective bargaining units. The three unions representing the fire and police departments refused to accept a new health insurance plan that would have meant higher premiums, copays, and deductables for members and their families.

Brian Parrow, president of the firefighters union, said he didn't know how the city came up with the money to save three jobs.

“That’s a great question,” he said.

Parrow said Howard refused to answer questions about where the money came from at yesterday’s fire department hearings. He refused similar budgetary questions at the police hearing later in the afternoon. A call to Howard was not immediately returned Wednesday.

As part of the cut to the Fire Department, two lieutenants will take a reduction in rank. The cuts also will force the closure of Engine 4 on Overlook Ridge Drive.

Four student police officers are expected to be laid off Saturday. They have been caught in limbo since the budgetary woes began in earnest about two months ago.

Dan Bourgue, 27, of Malden, Tim Van Nostrand, 23, of Somerville, Brian Tilley, 28, of Malden, and Rob O’Brien, 28, of Malden were days away from starting classes at the police academy when they were told that the department couldn’t pay for their training.

“We are the chopping block,” Tilley said, standing among the other three at City Hall Wednesday. The four are in a legal and logistically precarious situation. Because they are not sworn officers or members of the police union, they arrived at the hearings expecting 10 other officers -- and the legal muscle their union brings -- to help represent them, said Michael Polston, president of the Malden patrolmen's union.

"They were expecting to roll with us," Polston said. The four were the only public safety employees facing layoffs or rank-reduction who did not have legal representation, a point acknowledged by Police Commissioner Salvatore “Butch” Gennetti in the hearing.

Tilley and O’Brien said they quit stable jobs to work for the City of Malden; Bourque, an Army veteran, said he may return to school through the GI bill if a job policing doesn’t materialize. Van Nostrand, who said he graduated from Northeastern University in May with a degree in criminal justice, quit a part-time job with the Groton Police Department in hopes of finding full-time work in Malden.

Plans must change, the four said.

“Because we didn’t get to the academy, [other departments will] treat us like any other new hire,” Van Nostrand said. “We just kind of wasted time here.”

Polston, meanwhile said that it is difficult for the remaining officers to cover a city of nearly 60,000 with 70 patrolmen.

“You can’t run a city like that.”

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