After an exhausting and often challenging budget process this year, the village has tentatively arrived at an approximate $52.8 million budget, carrying with it a proposed 5.91 percent tax rate increase. Residents could pay an additional $302 a year.
Finance Chair John Mauk said even a zero percent increase would still have required a 15 percent tax rate increase because revenue shortfalls are so extensive. The proposed 6 percent rate now on the table, obviously more acceptable than earlier talks of a 15 or even 20 percent increase, doesn't come without cost, however.
If the budget is approved without changes, four officer positions will be eliminated from the Garden City Police Department, which, Commissioner Ernest Cipullo said, results in the loss of a patrol post.
Five police officers currently work the day (7 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and evening (4 p.m. to 11 p.m.) tours while four police officers report for the midnight (11 p.m. to 7 a.m.) tour.
With these staffing changes, numbers will drop to four, four and three - four officers working the day and evening tours and three officers reporting for the midnight tour.
Commissioner Cipullo, who has taken the heat from certain members of the Citizen's Budget Review Committee regarding overtime percentages, has argued that working with limited staff results in overtime.
The commissioner also argued that reduced staffing would undoubtedly result in reduced response times. "We pride ourselves in the fact that we have a two minute or less response time in an emergency. It's not going to happen if you expand the geographic area a police officer has to cover," Commissioner Cipullo said.
The Garden City Fire Department won't escape staffing reductions either. Captain Gil Frank, who reiterated to the Garden City Life that the flexible staffing level option he presented to the board was an alternative to layoffs and the village's request to cut the department's overtime costs. "It wasn't a recommendation," Captain Frank said. "I stand by the fact that it's not a safe solution."
The department is authorized to operate with 29 career firefighters and five career lieutenants. Right now, the department has one firefighter vacancy and a firefighter retirement is likely this August, bringing the total number of career firefighters available for duty down to 27.
Currently, seven firefighters and one lieutenant report for duty Monday through Friday on day tours while six firefighters and one lieutenant report for duty during evening and weekend tours.
If the flexible staffing proposal is implemented, five career firefighters and one career lieutenant would report for duty for all tours, including day, evening and weekends.
"Following Chief [James] Meehan's commitment to provide full-time volunteer staffing on weekends at Stations 2 and 3, I was directed by Mr. [Robert] Schoelle to provide the board options to address the fire department's overtime budget," Captain Frank explained. "The first option was the elimination of two firefighter positions while maintaining current minimum staffing levels and filling vacancies with overtime when needed, effectively eliminating two salaries."
Captain Frank continued, "The second worse case scenario was the reduction of the minimum number of on-duty career staffing and their related safety concerns. Both options last night were accepted by the board. Trustee [Nick] Episcopia stated Chief Meehan told him privately that volunteer members have no intention of providing in-house staffing on weekends. Reducing the current staffing level of career personnel with no guaranteed increase of available members from the volunteer force leaves a hole in our fire protection. I find that unacceptable. Public safety should not be compromised as a cost-cutting measure and I respectfully ask you to reconsider this item."
Trustee Episcopia clarified. "I never said that he said they would absolutely do that on weekends. But Chief Meehan very specifically said he would do his best. He would try but he wasn't committed. He certainly wasn't committing to staffing these substations in the evenings seven days a week," Trustee Episcopia said. "That he was very clear he couldn't do. He said he would make every attempt to do it but he never said he would be able to do it totally. He said he would try."
This proposed staffing scenario, Captain Frank said, results in one less fire engine being manned by career staff. Instead, the engine that comes out of headquarters would be mothballed for the next tour.
This staffing change also results in the loss of backup provided for subsequent alarms and affects dispatching. Headquarters Company members dispatch alarms, Captain Frank said. While responding to any given alarm, dispatching duties are temporarily turned over to Firecom until the relocating unit comes in to take over. Further, in the event of a fire, based on its severity, the department recalls career personnel from home, a responsibility of the relocating company. "We would now lose that capability," Captain Frank said.
Officials also discussed charging a fee for the use of village fields. They have since, however, rescinded this possibility. Furthermore, trustees removed the fuel expenditure to continuing heating the St. Paul's building, cut part-time employees in the Department of Public Works and have proposed to charge $150 for permits to park in Parking Field 5, behind the Garden City Medial Center, located at 520 Franklin Avenue.
The board will be asked to approve the new fee schedule April 6. Some items, according to Village Clerk Brian Ridgway, will even need a new local law and/or village code change before any "new" fee could be established.
In discontinuing to heat St. Paul's, trustees March 19 approved a professional service contract with Babylon-based Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. (www.gpinet.com) to coordinate preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the demolition of the historic Main Building at St. Paul's.
Finance Chair and Deputy Mayor John Mauk said the ailing economy certainly hasn't left Garden City untouched. "After the many hours that we've spent I think we have succeeded in achieving a lot of things ... Where we ended up, we're in a better situation here," he said.
In the end, trustees, working closely with department heads, removed $1.6 million from the village's capital program, totally eliminating Recreation Department projects and significantly reducing several Public Works projects. Further, Mauk said the village has instituted a hiring freeze and intends to review all employee salaries.
"What we achieve and where we stand right now is pretty significant," Mauk said.