Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

December 19, 2013

Council won't salvage city jobs

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Two eliminated city positions won’t be returned to the 2014 budget, the Common Council decided Wednesday.

A resolution, authored by 4th Ward Alderman Patrick W. Schrader, would have restored funding for an employee in the City Clerk’s office and a laborer in the highway department. The measure was pulled from Wednesday’s agenda after it failed to gain support from a second Council member. 

Both Schrader and Mayor Michael W. Tucker said the city is committed to avoiding laying off members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union to which the laborer belongs. That commitment came as a result of that union’s 2011 vote to allow the city to privatize garbage pickup, Schrader said.

“We made a promise and we signed a contract to the union that we wouldn’t lay anybody off. So now we’re lying to the union,” he said.

Tucker warned of trouble in future negotiations with the AFSCME local.

“It’s definitely a trust factor,” he told the Council. “You’re really going back on your word. … I can tell you, there will be consequences down the road.”

Tucker said he forgot about the clause while the 2014 budget process was worked through. Schrader said he was out of office when that deal was made, or he would have raised the question.

City Clerk Richelle J. Pasceri said money to pay both the laborer and the clerk’s office employee could have come from a budget line showing costs related to the retirement of Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite.

Passuite isn’t retiring this year, Pasceri told the Council, so $91,000 of that budget line could have been used to retain the two targeted positions.

Council President Anne McCaffrey, 2nd Ward alderman, opposed Schrader’s resolution, saying nothing has changed since the budget was adopted last month. And, she said, the commitment that the city made was only when the layoffs were related to privatizing garbage pickup.

Also, McCaffrey said, city officials just submitted a response to audit findings of the New York State Comptroller’s Office. Auditors reviewed the city’s finances after Lockport was declared to be in “moderate” fiscal stress by the comptroller in late summer.

“The thing you hear people say is, we have to get our fiscal house in order. In my opinion, for 2014, that’s the biggest challenge. I don’t think at this point we can put positions back that a month ago we didn’t have money for,” McCaffrey said.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, Norm Allen, director of engineering and public works, asked members to consider restoring the laborer post. Allen said under the AFSCME contract his department would not be able to use part-time and seasonal employees if one full-timer is laid off.

”I don’t know how we’re going to get the work done,” he said.

Alderman John Lombardi III, R-1st Ward, said he agreed with bringing back the laborer, but couldn’t support restoring both jobs.

McCaffrey said the Council will monitor the budget closely. If expenses are less than what was budgeted, then it would be prudent for the Council to look at adding back positions, she said.

In a related matter, the Council authorized Tucker to sign off on a new agreement with the Hickory Club Police Benevolent Association, the city police union.

In the 2014 budget, four police officer positions were to be eliminated. According to Tucker, the new five-year agreement, which still has to be approved by Hickory Club members, includes a number of cost saving measures that would in essence pay for those positions.

Tucker said the agreement would bring a number of changes to the police department, as well as a retirement incentive and no pay raises for Hickory Club members until 2017. It’s expected four officers will retire, negating the need for layoffs.

“It’s going to save the city quite a bit of money,” Tucker said, adding the police union has been “very receptive” to the city’s fiscal issues.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.