Barberton may not save money by laying off firefighters and could end up paying more in firefighting costs because of overtime, the head of the city's fire union says.

"I don't understand how layoffs are going to help the city because to keep services, that's going to require a large amount of overtime," International Association of Fire Fighters Local 329 President Rick Schwenning said Wednesday.

Mayor Bill Judge issued layoff notices Tuesday to five full-time workers, including four firefighters, and 21 part-time and seasonal employees across city departments in an attempt to help close a nearly $4 million projected gap in the city's budget this year. The other full-time position being cut is an administrative job in the police department. No full-time police officers are being let go, but reserve officers are being laid off, the mayor said.

Schwenning questioned the impact of the layoffs on the fire department. The fire union has 44 members, and the department just experienced three retirements. The layoffs are effective Feb. 12, meaning the department soon will be down seven firefighters, he said.

"That's a big chunk," he said, adding that another two firefighters are expected to retire soon.

Asking firefighters to work overtime could lead to fatigue and injuries, he added.

Judge said he's aware that fire overtime costs could rise, but that the city would watch scheduling closely. He added that he asked the unions to take concessions, including giving back raises and doing away with uniform allowances, or face layoffs. He said the unions had rejected the concessions.

He said he's still willing to negotiate, adding that the fire department was hit hardest with layoff notices because the city is required in its union contracts to lay off part-time workers first but there are only full-time firefighters.

Schwenning said he will meet with the membership to discuss its options. He said one of the firefighters affected just had a baby, two others are having babies and another bought a new house.

"This is going to have quite an impact on their lives," he said. "If we can do something, we are certainly going to try. We are going to support our membership."

Judge said he didn't know the specific financial savings from the personnel cuts, but said it didn't cover the entire shortfall. That gap will be closed through other cuts, including suspending cost-of-living raises for employees who are not union members.

"We're just in a tough economic position," Judge said.

He has blamed the city's financial woes on a combination of losing local government funds from the state and the upcoming loss in income tax revenue when Babcock & Wilcox and its 600 or so workers relocate this year to Akron.

The city is operating on a temporary budget and the mayor will present a final spending plan to City Council next month. The city is required to finalize its 2019 budget by March 31.

The fire union has suggested that the city look to the Barberton Community Foundation for a bailout. But foundation Interim Executive Director Patti Cleary said the group's charter doesn't allow it to pay for salaries or operational costs, and she noted that any bailout this year wouldn't help next year.

The board has discussed the issue and offered to assist the city in other ways.

"It's not a matter of not wanting to help," Cleary said. "As we told Mayor Judge, if there are other things besides operations and salaries that you need, please let us know."

Representatives for the police and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees unions couldn't be reached for comment. 

 

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.