Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

January 4, 2014

City starts with smaller police, fire departments

2014: Restructuring and layoffs a result of Lockport's fiscal crunch.

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

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — A new-look Lockport Police Department started Friday with new shifts and a reorganization while the city Fire Department will have make do with seven fewer firefighters.

The city’s 2014 budget features the cutting of 16 positions total. Four positions were cut in the police department, but layoffs were avoided with four retirements and restructuring of the department. 

To help ease the city’s financial pain, the city reached a new contract with the Hickory Club Police Benevolent Association, the police union. The deal is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013 and freezes police pay through 2016. The officers will receive 1.5 percent raises in January and July 2017 and in January and July 2018.

Police Chief Larry Eggert said LPD patrol will be divided into four squads instead of three, while changing from three eight-hour shifts per day to two 12-hour shifts. Police will work fewer days, but more hours per day.

That change started Friday, a day after five were promoted to patrol lieutenants, meeting the need for more squad commanders. Eggert said he hoped the change would reinvigorate the department and help squads bond together, creating more tight-knit groups.

“Change is difficult sometimes, there’ll be some aches and pains but I think some good will result,” Eggert said. “We’ll be able to provide the same level of service for less of the cost, which is a benefit to the taxpayer.”

Over the term of the police contract, the city is expected to save about $1 million. Those savings come in overtime, which Eggert estimated would be about $200,000 a year, as well as the retirement of three veteran officers.

The police union made some healthcare concessions and suspended a few incentives, Eggert said.

One other LPD change includes Capt. Brian Wentland being promoted to chief of detectives, succeeding the now retired Capt. Rick Podgers. There are 45 officers in the department, not including Eggert.

Meanwhile, seven were laid off in the city fire department, effective Friday, Mayor Michael W. Tucker said. That number was originally eight, but a firefighter retired and that position was not filled.

LFD is down to 38 firefighters, but the drop should not affect the minimum staffing requirements of nine firefighters per shift, Tucker said. 

But a close eye will be kept on the overtime costs, as officials are budgeting $504,303 in firefighter overtime for 2014. A recent audit report by the state Comptroller’s Office noted Lockport hasn’t properly budgeted for overtime costs in the past.

“We’ll watch it,” Tucker said.

Other layoffs taking effect this week include building inspector David Miller and highway laborer George Wiley. Susan Israel, a senior account clerk in the City Clerk’s Office, was moved to a previously vacant job in the City Assessor’s Office, Tucker said. The senior account clerk position was cut, but Israel will remain employed with the city.

A vacant position in the city youth bureau was cut for 2014.

Tucker was hopeful Wiley may be brought back, because Wiley’s layoff may have violated a no-layoff deal the city made with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union in 2011.

The deal was made when AFSCME members allowed the city to privatize garbage collection.

Norm Allen, director of engineering and public works, asked the Common Council last month 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.

Allen also had concerns his department wouldn’t be able to keep up with the workload.

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