By JOHN HOWELL Mayor Frank Picozzi aims to bring back some, if not eventually all, of the 30 municipal positions former Mayor Joseph Solomon eliminated last year. He is also faced with a number of board and commission vacancies on top of a Fire
Mayor Frank Picozzi aims to bring back some, if not eventually all, of the 30 municipal positions former Mayor Joseph Solomon eliminated last year. He is also faced with a number of board and commission vacancies on top of a Fire Department that is 18 positions shy of its budgeted staff.
As for municipal positions, Picozzi identified the city clerk’s office and the water division as two areas that are critically under staffed. Even with the pandemic that has cut down on activity, he said the city clerk is having difficulty keeping up with the workload and he has found employees staying at the office on their own time in an effort to stay on top of the work. As the pandemic lessens and the economy picks up, he can’t imagine the office will be capable of keeping up. As for the water division, he said he’s seen situations where the division has called for assistance.
Walter Hartley, president of Local 1651, is warmly endorsing the mayor’s willingness to address staffing and the concerns of employees. He related how during the first week of the Picozzi administration he was called to the corner office.
“He listens and he hears you,” Hartley said of Picozzi. Hartley recognizes the number of employees recalled is influenced by the budget and retirements.
As an example of the cuts made by Solomon, Hartley points to the prosecution office in the Police Department. The office had four clerks. Solomon eliminated one of those positions in the current budget. That left three. One of those retired and a second resigned, leaving Hartley to do all the work. Although the two positions were budgeted, they were not filled.
“Those are the easy ones because the money is budgeted,” Hartley said.
Already facing a “modest” deficit of about $1.2 million in the current budget, according to projections made by city Finance Director Peder Schaefer, Picozzi acknowledges there are financial consequences, but he can’t see doing nothing.
“We don’t have the money to bring them back today,” he said of the 30 people.
Picozzi said he has talked with the municipal employees union and his door remains open. He is hopeful of resolving two unfair labor practice suits brought by the local in the wake of the layoffs and job eliminations. The suits stem from budget deliberations last year, when the administration cut positions and made layoffs. Solomon gave the union the option of foregoing a negotiated pay raise or facing layoffs. The union rejected a pay freeze, requesting to negotiate. Solomon said that was his offer and moved ahead with the elimination of positions.
“He was not willing to discuss it. He was not letting us back to negotiate,” Harley said of Solomon. As for the two suits brought by the union, Hartley said he has been in discussion with Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and for the moment the suits are “in abeyance.”
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to work with this administration,” Hartley said. “We have a peoples’ mayor.”
When jobs are eliminated, displaced employees have the ability of bumping others out of their jobs based on seniority. Picozzi said Tuesday he was relieved to learn from the union that employees who lost their jobs have the ability to return to their former jobs. He feared reinstating the jobs could trigger a “reverse bumping.” His plan is to “strategically and in an orderly manner” bring back people.
Picozzi also faces high overtime costs in the Fire Department because vacant positions were left unfilled by the prior administration. Schaefer estimates Fire Department overtime to exceed the budget by $6 million by the end of the fiscal year. By contract, the city is obligated to abide by apparatus and station manning requirements, thereby leaving the city no option but to pay overtime.
As Schaefer observed in a recent interview, filling vacancies does not necessarily result in savings. Indeed, it reduces overtime costs, but what the city saves is offset by the salaries plus benefits paid the added personnel.
Picozzi said he is concerned how extended hours on the job could affect firefighter performance. He has authorized Chief Peter McMichael to advertise for recruits.
The department started advertising earlier this month to establish a list. Depending on the number of positions to be filled – McMichael said yesterday that will be a function of the budget – a class will be established for the academy and department training. The administration is seeking a federal grant to cover the salaries of the recruits for the first three years with the department. McMichael estimated the class would number about 20 recruits.
Picozzi is also looking to fill a number of board and commission vacancies. He said he would have a list to go before the City Council on March 8. Positions to be filled include the Historical Cemeteries Commission, Sewer Authority, Zoning Board, Historic District Commission, Wildlife and Conservation Commission and Board of Canvassers.