Judge rejects Omaha fire union's request to stop Fire Department cuts - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 4:10 am
Judge rejects Omaha fire union's request to stop Fire Department cuts

A Douglas County judge rejected the Omaha fire union's lawsuit attempting to block Fire Department budget cuts it said could harm public safety.

In a written ruling, District Judge James Gleason dismissed the union's arguments that Mayor Jean Stothert's proposed budget could amount to a breach of the city's labor contract with firefighters.

After considering evidence in four hours of testimony last month, Gleason said he concluded that he couldn't rule on a case related to a budget that has yet to be approved.

While the union's attorney said cuts could put firefighters at risk, Gleason ruled that “the proposal of a budget does not create a budget, and this court determines that this case is not ripe for decision until a budget has been approved by the City Council of the City of Omaha.”

Gleason wrote, “In this instance, this court declines to enter the political sphere (which it is not permitted to do in any event) by issuing an advisory opinion” concerning the mayor's proposed budget.

Stothert's budget would increase Fire Department funding by $8.2 million over this year, but it would fall short of Fire Chief Mike McDonnell's spending requests. Stothert is proposing a $90.6 million budget, while McDonnell says he needs about $94 million.

Stothert's plan would come with cuts, including 16 layoffs, eight demotions and two rigs removed from service.

Nothing, however, is official until the City Council votes on the budget. That's scheduled to happen next Tuesday.

Stothert said in a statement that her office is pleased with Gleason's ruling.

“Not only do we agree with Judge Gleason that the fire union's action was premature, we did not think that there was any merit to the allegations in the lawsuit,” she said. “We will continue to manage the city to best serve the citizens of Omaha in a fiscally responsible manner.”

McDonnell declined to comment.

The Omaha firefighters union said in a statement that if the council adopts the Stothert-proposed budget, “the parties will be back in court.''

“We are prepared to oppose the imposition of a budget which violates the promises the city made to our members at the table less than one year ago,'' the union statement said.

Union members are willing to work with Stothert to apply for federal grants that could avoid the cuts proposed by the mayor, the statement said.

The grants are available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

World-Herald staff writer Juan Perez Jr. contributed to this report.

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