During budget hearing, fire union president says contract talks with city have been revived - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:41 am
During budget hearing, fire union president says contract talks with city have been revived

Omaha fire union officials and Mayor Jean Stothert's office have revived talks over terms of the city's fire contract, the union president said Tuesday.

It's not clear what those talks entailed.

But as expected, union President Steve LeClair spoke up to oppose the Fire Department's proposed $90.6 million budget during a public hearing on the city budget before the City Council.

LeClair said the fire contract costs more than what Stothert is proposing to spend.

The union, Fire Department officials and Stothert have long argued over her fire budget, which could force layoffs, result in demotions and pull firetrucks and ambulances from service.

Fire Chief Mike McDonnell wants a roughly $94 million budget for his agency, a figure he said was necessary to avoid cuts.

“The prospect of laying off firefighters, closing stations, shutting down apparatus, should scare the hell out of us,” LeClair said.

“It's not a situation that I think anybody wants to find themselves in. And I think that for the sake of the citizens that we serve as firefighters — and for the sake of the firefighters, the men and women that I represent — I believe that we need to maintain an open dialogue.”

LeClair's brief comments were the only hint of fireworks at a budget hearing that was a quick, orderly affair.

Roughly 30 speakers delivered 90 minutes of testimony partly devoted to public safety concerns such as the Fire Department budget and oversight of the Police Department.

Stothert's supporters praised the budget.

“This budget restores fiscal sanity to the City of Omaha, lean but not mean,” said Doug Kagan of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom.

The fire budget is still one of the largest issues on the city government's plate, as council members finalize their own budget requests prior to an Aug. 27 vote on the city's spending plan.

McDonnell urged council members last week to help renegotiate the terms of the union contract in order to avoid cuts.

The union and Mayor's Office engaged in some early discussions to resolve the dispute.

But McDonnell said those talks stopped after the union filed a lawsuit following an executive order from Stothert that it was the city's “goal'' to comply with national firefighting guidelines.

Members of Stothert's office were present at the budget hearing Tuesday, but they did not address the council.

LeClair, however, said he had held conversations with Stothert and the city's lead labor negotiator on Tuesday.

“I believe, after those lengthy discussions, that there are some alternatives, that there are some options,” he said, adding they could include cost savings within the department's operations or an increase in the suggested budget.

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