Heat Raised By Firefighter Layoffs

Lieutenant Louis Mira presenting a petition calling for the rejection of the proposed firefighter layoffs to the village board. (Photo by Michael Scro)
Lieutenant Louis Mira presenting a petition calling for the rejection of the proposed firefighter layoffs to the village board. (Photo by Michael Scro)

Budget cuts threaten pair of paid positions

The proposed cuts of two firefighter positions within the Village of Garden City Fire Department continued to draw increasing criticism from its residents at the May Garden City Village Board of Trustees meeting.

The eliminations are part of the village’s 2016-17 budget, and village officials have cited financial constraints in meeting the New York State tax cap as rationale for the cuts.
In the 2016-17 proposed budget summary, Fire Department Chief William Castoro said that the year-over-year expense reductions are mainly due to attrition from the 2015-16 budget. The department’s adjusted budget, adopted on April 4, was $3,045,218—the result of an $11,000 increase in maintenance of software.

With an average firefighter salary being $82,828, the department listed 17 members, including four lieutenants and one 207A position for $38,607, bringing that part of the budget to a grand total of $1,429,442.

The 2016-17 budget will go into effect on June 1.

At the May 19 meeting, Lieutenant Louis Mira of the Garden City Fire Department presented the village board with a petition of 1,700 signatures by residents and business owners calling for the rejection of the layoffs.

“We want the village restored to a level of fire protection and safety that the taxpayers expect and deserve,” Mira said. “We will continue to collect signatures until we’ve approached every resident and business owner in this village.”

Mira was one of numerous fire department members and concerned residents who addressed the village board, urging them to not move forward with the plan. No speakers were in favor of the cuts.

Garden City Professional Firefighters’ Association President T.J. Michon has spoken publicly about their objection to the cuts, referring to them in a statement as “further reducing an already depleted fire department and continuing to have a negative impact on fire response and safety.”

As a response to the proposed cuts, two career firefighters who are within eligibility to retire after more than 20 years of service have announced their plans to do so effective June 1, in an effort to thwart the need for cuts.

Michon has said that the retirements would keep the staff to the budgeted 16 firefighter positions, therefore making the cuts unnecessary.

Village resident Margaret Rydzewski, in her public comments to the village board, shared her personal successful experiences with the department responding to her calls and regarded the proposal of those retirements to spare the cuts as “pretty darn awesome.”

Earlier in May, the village board issued a public statement that despite the proposed retirements, there are currently no plans to delay the layoffs of the two firefighters. Village officials have also stated that they are choosing to refill other positions that became vacant due to retirements for other reasons and firefighters who have been laid off will have priority, in accordance with civil service rules.

Village resident Kevin Curtin cited a recent report by the United States Fire Administration as support for his opposition to the plan.

“They state that seniors between the age of 65 and 74 are twice as likely to die in a fire than those who are younger—four times greater at 75 and five times at age 85,” Curtin said. “Our village residents deserve the fastest response time possible.”

Curtin also said that the village has, in its center, 16 multi-family dwelling units whose residents are mostly seniors and according to his estimates, make up roughly 10 percent of the village community.

The boardroom was nearly full, and at 10 p.m., Garden City Mayor Nicholas Episcopia proposed that the board vote to allow two more speakers, which no trustees supported.
“The points have been made by the citizens of the village—I hear them loud and clear,” trustee John Delany said.

After a few more speakers, trustee Richard Silver requested the village move into executive session, which concluded the meeting.

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Michael Scro is a reporter with Anton Media Group.

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