Board faults failure to learn cost of firefighters pact

NASHUA – Confusion over how much a proposed firefighters contract would cost the city prompted aldermen to send the agreement back to the budget review committee.

Some aldermen expressed frustration that the cost hadn’t been nailed down, given that firefighters Local 789 and the board of fire commissioners have been negotiating the pact for 27 months.

Others wondered why the cost estimates had gone from not needing a supplemental appropriation to requiring as much as $650,000 out of the general fund.

The vote Tuesday night to send the contract back to the committee was 13-1, with Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom voting against it. Ward 2 Alderman Richard LaRose was absent from the meeting.

Ward 5 Alderman Michael Tabacsko said the budget committee needs time to examine a financial analysis prepared by the city’s chief financial officer Mike Gilbar.

The contract is estimated to cost the city $18.11 million over five years. It covers 168 firefighters and extends retroactively from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2011. For those years, it gives firefighters average raises of 0, 4.70, 5.68, 5.72 and 4.69 percent respectively.

Aldermen worried that especially in the final years, payroll costs would eat up most of the budget of Nashua Fire Rescue Department, allowing little money for equipment and other needs.

The committee received the analysis last week.

The analysis “is a very useful tool. It’s just that it came into this process so late that there was no chance for everybody involved to be looking at things from the same vantage point so that everybody’s comparing apples to apples,” Tabacsko said.

Alderman-at-Large David Deane faulted the fire commission for not knowing what the contract cost when they brought it to the alderman.

Teeboom said it didn’t matter if there was a discrepancy between Gilbar’s analysis and the financial analysis in the contract. Either way, he said, the pact is too expensive.

“It’s an unacceptably high number,” he said. “It will require a supplemental budget to get this funded. We don’t have the money for that. What we have in contingency is not enough to fund this.”

Teeboom said he was prepared to vote against the contract.

“You can delay this further. You can wring your hands about the so-called missing numbers, but the fact of it is, the contract should not have been negotiated the way it is and sending it back to committee isn’t going to help,” Teeboom said.

Under city law, the board would have to vote to accept or reject the contract within 30 days of receiving it, and the deadline would have been Friday. However, the firefighters union agreed to waive the 30-day period and allow the pact to be sent to committee.

Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy, who chairs the budget review committee, said the committee could meet to discuss the contract Tuesday and a special board of aldermen’s meeting could be called for Sept. 19 to vote on the contract.

“I am not happy we’re at this point,” McCarthy said. “We should have known the numbers long ago.”

About 30 to 40 firefighters attended Tuesday’s meeting, many wearing Local 789 T-shirts.

Some firefighters and residents spoke in favor of the contract.

Bert Janz of 31 Syracuse Road said he trained to fight fires while serving in the Navy. Fortunately, he never had to put those skills to use, Janz said.

“Only a fool runs into a burning house. Thank God I’m surrounded by fools like these,” he said, indicating the firefighters in the Aldermanic Chamber.

Also at the meeting, aldermen approved contracts for police dispatchers and school custodians and paraprofessionals. The cost for each of these contracts was small compared to the firefighters pact.