City of Ogdensburg would have saved about $11,000 in December if two firefighters were hired
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
OGDENSBURG — Ogdensburg would have saved about $11,000 in the month of December alone by hiring two additional firefighters, according to a report from Ogdensburg Fire Chief Ken Stull.
The savings would come from hazard pay which the city is contractually obligated to pay to firefighters who work shifts below the contractually mandated staffing level.Stull calculated that savings for two hires for one month would be $21,996, but that adding two additional firefighters would cost about $11,000 per month. That would create a net savings of $10,996 in one month alone.
It’s an argument he presented to the city council during budget season as a way to close a $2.5 million gap between expenses and revenues.
While some members of council supported the idea, Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly, Deputy Mayor Steve Fisher and councilors John Rishe and Bill Dillabough opposed the measure.
Councilors Dan Skamperle, Nichole Kennedy and Michael Powers conceded that the savings would help the city at a much needed time.
The majority of council, however, raised concerns about the long-term costs associated with hiring more firefighters than the city could sustain in the future. The mayor pointed out that future raises and benefits would offset the savings in the future, leaving the city in a potentially worse fiscal situation.
On several occasions the majority councilor members said the existing contract between the fire department and city puts a financially unsustainable burden on the taxpayers.
That debate caused a years-long legal battle in which an arbitrator eventually ruled in favor of the fire union.
Despite the extra upfront expense the mayor argued that the city must continue to reduce the number of firefighters and has suggested that the city needs to move toward a volunteer and professional hybrid fire department similar to what’s done in the neighboring Town of Massena.
Having not passed a resolution that would allow the city to exceed the 2% property tax cap, the city is working within tight financial constraints.
Interim City Manager Andrea Smith said the city will need to closely monitor spending to ensure it does not risk losing state aid.
It’s unclear if councilors might revisit hiring additional firefighters as a cost savings, but there has been no indication of majority support on the issue in recent meetings.