Scituate officials may have some last minute budget appropriations to figure out if labor negotiations between the town and the firefighter’s union occur on schedule.
After almost three years of dispute about the contract, arbitration between the town and Scituate Firefighters IAFF Local 1464 is expected to conclude in early April.
The deadline comes close to budget finalizations, which will be voted by the town at Town Meeting on Monday, April 9. Presently there is no appropriated money to fund an increase in the fire union’s budget.
“The arbitration judge doesn’t mandate an increase, they issue a decision on the merits of the proposals and decide which will be awarded and which wont,” said Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi. “There is a cost associated with that. At the present time, there is not funding in the FY13 budget to accommodate any increases, cause we don’t know what they are.”
Although a contingency plan may be in place, Vinchesi said she could not speak about how they might fund an increase until they see the potential award.
“I think it’s fair to say the town’s proposals are affordable, and we went to arbitration because there was a difference of opinion of what the town could afford and what the union desired,” Vinchesi said.
Scituate officials have been attempting to resolve a new contract since the old one expired on June 30, 2009.
According to Vinchesi, the Fire Department has the second largest town budget, next to the school department. They are currently seeking benefits that are not in keeping with the other four union contracts that have been settled in the town, she said.
“They have gone to every length possible, and they just met with an arbitrator within the last several weeks,” said selectmen chair Anthony Vegnani.
Union President and Scituate Firefighter Richard Yanosick said the union's main concerns stem around manpower issues.
"Up until Jan. 17 we ran at a 10 man minumum on the floor…so we have a buffer zone of one man for time off. In January, we dropped down to nine men on duty, so the ladder became unmanned. If there is a building fire, we take a guy off the ambulance and put him on the ladder truck if the ambulance is in town. If the ambulance isn’t in town, there is no ladder truck till the truck in Hummarock comes and takes it. There is a significant delay on the matter," Yanosick said.
It is a significant safety issue for the public and the firefighters, Yanosick said, and a main part of negotiations.
Yet Vinchesi disagrees that the town is at risk.
“That’s completely untrue. That is pure [myth],” she said when asked if the town was dropping manpower or taking a ladder truck out of service. “It’s reflective of the current status of the waiting arbitration decision. But in no way would I want it to be conveyed to the public that there is any compromise of safety being discussed.”
If anything, Vinchesi said, the town has increased their commitment to the department.
From FY12 to FY13, there will be an increase in $50,000 in the overtime budget – approved last town meeting as part of the $2.2 million override.
Although the overall budget is down, from $4,043,658 in FY12 to $4,032,432 in FY13, that is mainly due to people retiring and newer people coming in at a lower rate.
Additionally, this year the town will refurbish an ambulance and purchase a defibrillator. In FY14, the town is looking to purchase a new ladder truck with the help of the Federal FIRE act grant.
“They also have a new ambulance and new pumper coming online that was approved in capital last year. Despite what folks may think, the town has been very supportive of the department,” Vinchesi said.
Yanosick said the union is gathering to put specific complaints in writing. In the meantime, manpower will continue to be an issue, he said.
"It’s a big thing of staffing. Men still have to go to the fire and put the fire out. You can't do it without manpower. It has to be done with manpower," he said.