Lockport council OKs hiring freeze for city through 2020

A city hiring freeze — including new hirings in the Lockport Police and Fire departments — has been put in place until 2021.

The common council voted 5-0 on Wednesday to approve a resolution by Alderman Rick Abbott that bars the filling of any vacant city position. Voting to approve were aldermen Abbott, Luke Kantor, Joe Oates, Ellen Schratz and Kelly VanDeMark. Alderman Mark Devine was absent.

Prior to the vote, council members and Mayor Michelle Roman debated whether existing vacancies in the city's police and fire departments would be included.

“The intent of the entire resolution was we will maintain minimum manning on all shifts through the use of overtime,” Abbott said. “We're talking 100 days until we get our feet underneath us in regards to our revenues and our expenditures.”

City attorney Laura Miskell cautioned the council to include a paragraph acknowledging that there are specific union contracts in place which the city is a party, with minimum manning requirements.

“I understand Rick's point that it's only 100 days, but I don't think we should do anything for any amount of days that could be in violation of a union agreement or a court agreement or anything that could set the city up for a lawsuit,” Miskell said.

Abbott said the city would not be in violation of those contracts because minimum manning has been maintained through the use of overtime.

“My concern is the hiring for the police and fire departments are done through the police board and fire board that they'll hire when there's openings, which there are. I feel holding the position for 100 days is in better interest of the city,” Abbott said.

Mayor Michelle Roman said there are currently two openings in the fire department and four in the police department.

“Overtime costs are higher than the cost of filling the positions,” she said. “If we can fill the positions with people who have met the qualifications, took the test, don't require training, we can reduce the overtime and reduce the strain on the current manning because they have to accept this overtime and take on this overtime."

“Like you said, there's just 100 days left and there are not that many openings.”

Abbott said he disagreed.

“I don't think we should be hiring new employees. This isn't anything new and no different than any other community in the Western New York area,” he said. “To be honest, we might be in a whole different position if we weren't diligent over the last three to four years creating that surplus that we can cover any shortfall in the budget.” 

In other matters, the council set a public hearing for Oct. 7 to garner public feedback for the proposed solar farm on 14 acres of land on Summit Street. The parcel of land is located on the south side of Summit Street, further west from the water plant.

The public hearing deals with OYA Ruhlmann's request for a special use permit made by OYA Solar NY, L.P., for approval for a five megawatt ground mounted solar facility in an R-1 Zone.

In a separate resolution on Wednesday, the city designated itself as “lead agency” regarding the solar project, giving itself final authority over any future action involving the site. The Oct. 7 public hearing will be virtual only and begins at 5:30 p.m.

In addition, the council: 

• appointed Miles D. Patterson, 12 Hoover Parkway, to the police board. Patterson is filling the unexpired term of Timothy Walsh, which expires Dec. 31.

• granted permission to Christene Cescon to barricade Rene Place, an alley off Ohio Street, between Park and West avenues, to conduct a block party/pig roast on Saturday, Oct. 10, beginning at 2 p.m.

• Called for a public hearing on Oct. 7 relative to a request for a special use permit by Jason Castricone to utilize an existing building for office space, salon/retail and an apartment at 242 S. Transit St., situated in a residential zone.

• granted permission to the Boy Scouts of America, lroquois Trail Council, to host a recruiting event at Altro Park on Oct. 3, subject to filing a certificate of insurance with the city, providing that COVID-19 protocols and the practice of social distancing is followed in accordance with New York State guidelines.

• granted permission to Refuge Temple to conduct a Community Day in the city owned parking lot on Heritage Square on Sept. 27. Social distancing and the use of masks by attendees must be followed in accordance with state guidelines.

• renewed the city's cellular and data equipment services contract with Verizon Wireless.

Follow reporter John D'Onofrio on Twitter with “Good Morning, Lockport, N.Y.” weekday mornings.

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