Written by Dave Gil de Rubio, firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 15 February 2013 00:00
Emotions remain high nearly a week after a raucous Garden City village board meeting at which trustees voted to lay off six firefighters and demote one officer. With the standing-room-only crowd of residents and firefighter families spilling into the hallway of village hall at the Thursday evening meeting, the board voted 6-2 to make the cuts, in an effort to save more than $900,000.
“The model we need is to have eight [firefighters] during the day, eight during the night, and a vacation relief guy for nights and days, plus three on disability. That’s 21, and now we have 26 plus five,” Deputy Mayor/Fire Commissioner John Watras told the board. “We’re actually going down to 21 and four, but we really have 18 firefighters that are available to show up.”
In other words, Watras said the fire department could operate with four lieutenants and 18 firefighters. For nearly a century, volunteers have augmented the professional staff. This makes the Village of Garden City, along with the city of Long Beach, the only two Long Island communities to carry a hybrid department of paid and volunteer firefighters.
“My opposition to the layoffs of six firefighters is no secret,” said Mayor Donald Brudie, who was joined by Trustee Andrew Cavanaugh in voting against the resolution. “As mayor, I am opposed to reducing the staff of a department charged with life-saving and property-protection responsibilities. The budget process has just begun and the board is taking these steps without first exploring reductions in other non-life-threatening areas where expenditure reductions would not have a draconian impact on our residents, their property and their safety.”
Before the vote, public comment brought a veritable conga line of speakers, most of whom spoke passionately against the layoffs, expressing emotions ranging from surprise and incredulousness to desperation and anger, particularly at the fact that news of this motion had allegedly been released just days before. Longtime resident Tim Gaynor was especially incensed.
“I work in labor relations so I have a little bit of a different take in terms of how stuff is done,” Gaynor said. “I don’t see the transparency of [this process]. The first I heard of this was through an email last night from one of your paid firefighters. I had no knowledge of this whatsoever, and I think that’s kind of deceiving. I was actually in support of the closing of firehouses, but I didn’t think there would be an impact on the paid guys. If people get laid off, you will not hear the last of me.”
Firehouse closings were among the recommendations in a report issued this past summer by the International/City County Management Association (ICMA). Commissioned by the Village Board, the report proposed eliminating nighttime staff at the Edgemere Road and Clinton Road satellite stations and changing dispatch calls from being directly placed to the three Garden City firehouses to the Firecom dispatcher as a means of reducing response times. Residents recoiled at the proposals.
Watras said he used the ICMA report as well as meetings with fire chiefs within the department to arrive at the plan to lay off six firemen and demote one lieutenant to the rank of firefighter.
While many residents expressed concerns that the cuts would compromise safety, Trustees John DeMaro, Nicholas Episcopia, Dennis Donnelly, Brian Daughney, John Watras and Laurence J. Quinn were not convinced, and voted for the motion.
“Fifteen years ago we had the same number of people arriving at your fire as 10 years ago, five years ago, last year and a year from now,” said Quinn. “The actual number of paid firefighters under [this] plan is exactly the same. We’re not closing firehouses. We’re going to have the same guys show up.”
“And we’ll probably have more [firefighters on the scene] because the volunteers get there quicker,” added Daughney.
The effective date of the changes has not been set.
At the meeting, Brudie pointed out that collective bargaining isn’t over, and a reversal of the resolution is still possible. But this was little consolation to firefighter family members who left the boardroom in tears with children in tow. At press time, Village Administrator Robert Schoelle responded via email that the village had not yet received the actual names of the six laid off firefighters from the Civil Service Commission and a call to Chief Charles Cavarra was not returned.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Lieutenant Frank Roca, a 23-year member of the Garden City Fire Department whose rank will be reduced to firefighter as part of the resolution.
“My heart goes out to these guys,” he said outside of the boardroom after the vote. “These guys left good jobs [to become Garden City firefighters]…But right now, it was just thrown away.”
The next meeting of the board is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m.
Wednesday, 11 December 2013 00:00
On Friday, Dec. 6, Federal District Judge Arthur Spatt ruled that the Village of Garden City violated the Fair Housing Act, and ordered the plaintiffs to submit a proposal for how the village might address the issue, to which the village must then respond.
The case stemmed from a 2004 plan by former County Executive Thomas Suozzi to sell developers the 25-acre site of the Department of Social Services office. Suozzi requested the zoning be changed to allow 311 units of multi-family housing. Negative reaction from the public prompted village officials to limit the zoning to 150 town houses, 90 single-family homes, or a combination of the two with each option allowing for up to 36 multifamily units.
Saturday, 07 December 2013 00:00
On Sunday, Nov. 3, a walk-a-thon was held to benefit Camp Anchor, a year-round recreation program for citizens with both mental and physical handicaps. The walk-a-thon was coordinated by Garden City resident and Kellenberg Senior Christina DiMasso, and Kellenberg Junior Brendan Callahan, who both work at the camp. “I did this because Camp Anchor has been so great for my brother, Thomas, who struggles with autism,” Callahan said. “I have also grown so much through volunteering there these past three summers.”
Thursday, 05 December 2013 00:00
The 36th Annual Garden City Turkey Trot was held on a sunny but cold and windy Thanksgiving day. The frigid temperatures were no match for the more than 5,000 runners who ran in Long Island’s largest Thanksgiving day road race. The Turkey Trot consists of three races—a Challenger Division Race for courageous special needs athletes, a 1.4-mile Fun Run and a challenging 5-mile race.
Wednesday, 04 December 2013 12:19
Knowing they were facing off against a very physical team which had made the States for the last two consecutive years, the Garden City Wings Varsity Ice Hockey teammates discussed strategies in the locker room at the Bethpage Ice Arena. Alex Feinstein’s past netminding experiences for the Sailors would prove valuable to them as he drew upon his insight in how to compete against them effectively. Playing with the Garden City Wings team, together they crushed the Oceanside Sailors 7-2, earning their first Varsity win of the season in Nassau County High School Hockey League. Feinsten faced 30 shots while his teammates unloaded 24 on the opposing goalie.