Stothert considers giving ax to recent firefighter recruits to cut spending - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:56 pm
Stothert considers giving ax to recent firefighter recruits to cut spending

Mayor-elect Jean Stothert might eliminate a recent batch of firefighter recruits to address the Fire Department's spending for the rest of this year.

The city needs to examine whether it needs the additional firefighters and evaluate its options, Stothert said Tuesday, reigniting the fire contract debates of her mayoral campaign.

Amid the campaign, Fire Chief Mike McDonnell blamed a new fire contract for causing an $8.6 million shortfall in the Fire Department's budget.

“I'm not going to look at it as a shortfall right now because I have six more months this year to balance that budget, and I'll balance the budget,” the mayor-elect said Tuesday. “But when you hire that many firefighters, it's going to cost you an overage in our budget.”

Stothert, who wants new leadership in the Fire Department, also criticized fire officials for hiring the additional recruits.

“I don't think it was wise that we hired that many firefighters in 2013 after the budget was set,” she said.

McDonnell, in a statement, said much of the department's costs are fixed.

“Ninety-eight percent of the Omaha Fire Department's budget is directly or indirectly mandated by the fire union contract,” McDonnell said. “We are always looking at cost savings without reducing public safety.”

Earlier this year, Mayor Jim Suttle announced that a recruit class of roughly 40 firefighters would begin training to offset retirements and new costs associated with the fire contract, mostly related to mandatory paramedic training. The class would help reduce projected overtime costs next year by about $1 million, the mayor said.

Fire officials said the recruit class, which graduated last month, brought the Fire Department ranks to 652 firefighters. The new firefighters was each to be paid just under $50,000 annually.

“Those are the things we've got to look at, do we need 47 more firefighters?” Stothert said. “And although it is in the contract, we need to see what we can do with that class potentially — if we can move it later, or train those paramedics without the additional staff.”

Suttle predicted the contract would create a shortfall as he signed it.

In an April letter to the City Council, McDonnell wrote that the contract “significantly altered projected costs due to changes in wages, benefits, and additional obligations; however, the Fire Department budget remained set at 70.5 million dollars.”

McDonnell asked the council to transfer an additional $5.3 million into the department's budget — which the council declined to do.

Steve LeClair, head of the city's fire union, said Tuesday that laying off firefighters could violate the labor contract and “make no fiscal sense” because of the contract's mandates.

“We don't feel it's in the interest of the taxpayers or public safety to start off by violating our contract,” LeClair said in a statement. “We look forward to speaking with any city official about the meaning of our agreement to avoid unnecessary litigation and expense.”

Stothert said she won't compromise public safety and will provide good city services.

“That's what the taxpayers expect with their tax dollars,” she said.

Stothert said it was still too early to transfer more money into the department's budget.

“You don't just move $5 million into somebody's account halfway through the year because they say they're short,” Stothert said. “You tell 'em to work on their budget and try to curb their spending.”

Contact the writer:

402-444-1068, johnny.perez@owh.com

twitter.com/PerezJr

Families from area shelters treated to meal at Old Chicago
Omaha police investigate two Sunday shootings
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Explosion near 29th, Woolworth damages vehicles
Omaha police arrest man, 19, accused in March shooting
Earth gets its day in the sun at Elmwood Park
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »