OGDENSBURG FIRE DEPARTMENT MINIMUM DAILY STAFFING REDUCED TO 3 AFTER IAFF LOCAL 1799 REFUSES TO NEGOTIATE A REDUCTION IN PERKS AND HAZARD PAY
The City of Ogdensburg cannot afford to continue the exorbitant perks demanded by IAFF Local 1799 and to maintain the level of staffing desired by the Union. As Fire Chief, I would like to see daily minimum staffing set at 4 personnel, and I would like to work toward maintaining 5 personnel as often as possible, however, the City cannot afford that level of staffing until IAFF Local 1799 agrees to negotiate the reduction of firefighter benefits that far exceed the normal salary and benefit program offered to all other employees of the City. Currently the average cost of a firefighter exceeds $140,000, the highest cost of all employee groups in the City and they pay the least toward healthcare at 8%, which is 12% lower than most all other employees. In addition, all personnel are receiving an $6 per hour hazard pay, which is actually job security pay and a total sham on the taxpayers that was approved by the previous City Council immediately following the staggering 2019 Election defeat of then Mayor Wayne Ashley and 3 City Councilors.
After many attempt to simply schedule a meeting to work out a collective plan were ignored by IAFF Local 1799, the City Manager directed the reduction in daily minimum staffing to 3 personnel effective 9 January 2022. IAFF Local 1799 is now reactivating their aggressive fear mongering campaign designed to scare residents and increase pressure on city officials to give in to their demands; it has not worked previously and will not work this time.
IAFF Local 1799 President Jason Bouchard ‘s declination of the City’s request to negotiate citing a lack of trust and firefighter safety are nothing more than canned public release fear lines designed by an down state public relations firm hired to speak for Mr. Bouchard. As a Firefighter in the Ogdensburg Fire Department, Mr. Bouchard is well aware that the Skelly Administration has dedicated more resources than any other in the history of the City to the replacement of protective clothing, replacement of fire apparatus, enhancement of communication gear and improvements to training. Mr. Bouchard also knows first hand the positive working relationships that have been improved dramatically between the Ogdensburg Fire Department and its mutual aid partners since Chief Jellie requested their enhanced assistance in August of 2020. In fact, at a recent meeting with Heuvelton Fire Chief Travis Wood and Heuvelton Mayor Barb Lashua, Chief Wood commented that “our working relationship with Ogdensburg has never been better than it is now”.
The City of Ogdensburg takes its responsibility for public safety very serious, that is why the current City Manager is a former Fire Chief. However, the City cannot continue to spend more on public safety than it does on all other departments and programs and in general the City cannot ever return to spending more money than it takes in. The City also must continue to cease the practice of inappropriately using water and sewer revenue funds to offset general fund deficits in the Fire and Police pension programs that has now resulted in the City borrowing over $30M to renovate the Wastewater Treatment Plant because that fund had no Capital Funds remaining.
As City Manager, I call on IAFF Local 1799 President Jason Bouchard to resist the pressure he is feeling from his former mentors and State Union Officials and schedule a meeting to discuss how to work collectively to insure the City remains financially strong. As Fire Chief, I call on IAFF Local 1799 President Jason Bouchard to think for himself and chart a course for the next 20 years, which should include a plan to maintain minimum fire department career staffing of 4 personnel and to train a volunteer augmentation force of 16 personnel by the end of 2023.
Since taking office in January 2020, the Skelly Administration has worked tirelessly to save the City from the near financial ruin left by the previous city council and with a firm plan in place, it is working equally has hard to accelerate the revival of the City. The City of Ogdensburg sincerely requests IAFF Local 1799 join the efforts in the very near future.