Cops, Firefighters get X-mas gift

By Ron Leir

For cops and firefighters expecting to lose their jobs or to be demoted by year’s end, this holiday season was looking pretty glum.
But now the spirit of Christmas is bringing the best gift of all: their jobs are safe and they’ll be no bumping down of ranks.
Mayor Alberto Santos, Town Administrator Michael Martello and Chief Financial Officer Shuaib Firozvi each confirmed in separate interviews last week that the layoffs and demotions that were scheduled for Dec. 31 are pretty much off the table.
Attorneys for both sides have been in constant contact with each other for the past couple of months as the town and the unions representing members of the Police and Fire Departments have looked for fiscal strategies aimed at shedding the labor strife.
And, as a result, Santos said, “we are now very close on (settling) both police and fire issues. It depends on the total number of retirements that actually occur… We are waiting on some additional retirements but, until the papers are filed, we can’t rely on them for purposes of savings projected.
“However, if all of them occur as we expect them to, then it would be safe to say there will be no layoffs for either the Police or Fire Departments,” Santos said.
Nine Police Department retirements – five superiors and four rank-and-file officers – are slated to kick in Feb. 1, 2012, according to Martello.
In the Fire Department, nine retirements – two superiors and seven firefighters – are also factored into the savings equation. Two men left in October; others will depart in April 2012; and the rest, in July 2012, Martello said.
PBA local President Glenn Reed and FMBA local President James Carey, who plans to retire July 1, 2012, agreed that it now appears that the layoff plan is dead.
“That’s correct,” Reed said. “We worked it out last week and we’ve informed our members.”
Decreased pension contributions, savings from present and future retirements and from switching to a less expensive medical plan helped nail down the deal, Carey said.
As things now stand, Carey said the FMBA’s agreement to accept compensatory time in place of overtime this year, as part of a budget savings plan requested by management, will expire Dec. 31 but not without consequences.
“They (the town) owe our members thousands and thousands of hours in comp time and I don’t know how they’re going to make good on that,” Carey said.
According to Firozvi, the town had hoped to achieve a savings of $1,150,000 in the Police Department payroll and $960,000 in the Fire Department for 2012. “We’ve achieved both goals,” he said.
But Santos, Martello and Firozvi said the town is still negotiating with the representatives of civilian union employees – the Civil Service Association – on ways of preventing the abolition of nine jobs spread among the Construction, Finance, Health and Public Works Departments and the Town Library.
For the non-uniformed employees, Firozvi said the town was looking to accomplish $1 million in savings for 2012. With four retirements anticipated by year’s end, that would still leave $650,000 to chop, he said.
Three employees have just filed for disability retirements but those savings haven’t been factored in yet, Firozvi said.
This year, Civil Service union members had to swallow 26 furlough days – representing 10% of their base salaries – as another cost-saving measure and they may have to accept some furloughs again for 2012, officials say.
“Unless we get a significant number of retirements, the most logical alternative for savings is (the use of) furloughs,” Santos said.
Earlier this year, Kearny officials had projected a 2012 budget deficit of $5 million. Santos said the town figured to attack that gap through “a small tax increase,” application of town reserves, a reduced pension contribution and labor savings.
At this point, according to Santos and Firozvi, the town is “about half-way there” to filling the projected budget shortfall. How successful it will be depends on the outcome of talks with the civilian employees unions, how much of a surplus the town can generate, to what extent the town can reduce its operating expenses, its revenue picture and the impact of next year’s employee insurance premiums, Firozvi said.
Next year, the town will also have to deal with another round of labor contract negotiations. The fire unions’ contracts run out July 1; police and civilian middle-level supervisors will see their pacts expire on Dec. 31.

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