March 3, 2013

Editorial: Assessing costs

A Press-Republican series looking at costs for the City of Plattsburgh Police and Fire departments shows that some adjustments could save money.

City firefighters and police officers are deservedly respected in this community. We have observed over the years that members of both departments are professional, well-trained and service-oriented.

But these are challenging times for taxpayers, and even the most accomplished departments have to be assessed for potential savings. So we make these observations:

Firefighter shifts: The city should negotiate a change from 24-hour shifts to 10 or 12 hours. City firefighters say that if a proposal is brought to them, they are willing to negotiate a shift change; they must do that for the sake of the people who pay them.

However, the eight-hour shifts suggested by Mayor Donald Kasprzak won’t work. They aren’t used by any other paid department in New York state, with good reason. The job is different from others in that workers can’t plan tasks to end at an appointed time. The ambulance or fire trucks can be called out 10 minutes before a shift ends, and the responders can’t leave the emergency site just because their work day is officially done. That means overtime.

But 10- or 12-hour shifts would stave off some of the overtime and also end the wasteful practice of firefighters being paid to sleep on the night shift. They should be awake and working on duties or projects for the city their whole shift.

Fire Department staffing: City officials have reduced Fire Department personnel from 48 in 2002 to 37 now and want to eliminate the clause requiring a minimum of 36. Oswego has a whopping 66 firefighters; Ogdensburg, 29; and Oneonta, 28.

But 36 firefighters may be as low as it’s practically possible to go, because the city must be careful not to compromise safety and also because the union appears dead-set against budging on any layoffs.

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