2012-01-26 / Front Page

Monroe firefighters pass on raises to avoid layoffs

Union, commissioners agree to concessions that will save district $300K
BY JAMES McEVOY
Staff Writer

The potential layoffs of up to eight firefighters were avoided through concessions reached between the union and commissioners of Monroe Township Fire District No. 3.

The givebacks were necessary to ensure the fire budget did not exceed the 2 percent cap on tax levy increases, according to Douglas Martin, chairman of the district’s Board of Fire Commissioners.

Monroe Township Fire Department Lt. Kenneth Link, public information officer of the district, which employs 32 firefighters, said the union agreed to immediate pay freezes, abolishment of overtime and to accept other duties in order to further reduce expenses.

The efforts are expected to save the fire district approximately $300,000. The union’s concessions impact fiscal year 2012 and the third and final year of the firefighters’ contract, which expires at the end of the year.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had to think about a reduction in the force,” Link said. “We dug as hard into our pockets as we could.”

Martin lauded the firefighters for their willingness to sacrifice.

“They cooperated significantly,” Martin said. “It was a great team effort.”

Martin also praised District No. 3 Fire Chief Peter J. Gasiorowski and his staff for pursuing grants, including $104,000 from the Federal EmergencyManagementAgency to purchase new breathing equipment.

“We got 90 percent of that paid for, so that helps,” he said.

The concessions also ensure the safety of personnel and the public through adequate staffing, Link said.

“At the end of the day, our sole purpose was to continue providing the residents of Monroe Township with efficient services,” Link said. “[Low] staffing levels equate to injuries, deaths and serious property issues.

“The levels we currently provide for residents is a National Fire Protection Association model, and we feel it’s the most efficient and safest model to maintain,” he added.

Link said the concessions were necessary due to the tough economic climate, but acknowledged that the ongoing study regarding the consolidation of fire services was a factor.

“[The study] is directly involved, because if our budget doesn’t get passed in February, we could be going into the regionalization with less staffing than they have now,” Link said.

“The fire district recognizes there are significant financial problems across the district, but they’re also waiting to see what is going to come out of the study, and that’s where it gets very dicey,” he added. “Everybody’s kind of in limbo, and at the same time, the financial machine is still going, and that’s what put us in this position.”

The Township Council formed a Fire Study Advisory Committee last year in an effort to ensure that adequate fire services are provided while saving the township money. Officials said the committee is aiming to issue its final report and recommendations in April.

Martin, who serves on the advisory committee, downplayed any connection with the study, and said the concessions were needed solely to ensure the passage of this year’s budget.

District No. 3 voters will be asked for budget approval, as well as a second public question that proposes to move $150,000 from capital reserves into the operating budget.

“We need that to make the budget work and avoid layoffs,” he said.

The District No. 3 election will take place Feb. 18 from 2 to 9 p.m. at the fire station at 359 Schoolhouse Road.

District No. 3 firefighters’ response area covers the central portions of Monroe. Its firefighters also serve as second responders for all other fires in the township.

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