Firefighters deal gets panel’s OK

NASHUA – The budget review committee approved a contract covering city firefighters although the contract would create a nearly $431,000 shortfall in the city budget by next summer.

With committee member Ward 5 Alderman Michael Tabacsko absent, the committee voted 4-2 to send the contract to the full board with the committee’s recommendation.

The board of aldermen’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Sept. 9.

Voting for the $18.11 million contract were Aldermen-at-Large Brian McCarthy, the committee chairman, Benjamin Clemons, the resolution’s sponsor, and Lori Wilshire and Ward 3 Alderman Michael Tamposi Jr.

Voting against the contract were Alderman-at-Large David Deane and Ward 1 Alderman Mark Cookson.

A motion to hold the contract in committee failed 3-3, with Tamposi voting with Deane and Cookson to table.

The contract covers 168 firefighters and extends retroactively from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2011. For those years, it gives firefighters average raises of zero, 4.70, 5.68, 5.72 and 4.69 percent respectively.

Fire Chief Brian W. Morrissey cited an example of a firefighter who, under the contract, would go from a current base salary of $48,936 to $56,759 in 2011.

The contract would cost the city $991,598 for the previous and $693,651 for the current fiscal years, according to figures provided by Michael Gilbar, the city’s chief financial officer.

Gilbar’s figures show that the contract would create a shortfall of $430,784 by June 30, 2009, the end of the current fiscal year.

Deane called the shortfall “significant” and questioned where the money would come from. He proposed holding the contract in committee until Gilbar provided an answer of possible sources of funding.

By law, the city is required to fund a contract it approves, Deane noted.

However, McCarthy said the full board is also required by law to act on the contract by Sept. 12, which is 30 days following its first reading.

Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom said he wouldn’t support a supplemental appropriation to fund the contract.

“I can guarantee I will not ever vote to exceed the (spending) cap,” said Teeboom, who isn’t a voting committee member but joined the discussion along with Ward 7 Alderman Richard Flynn and Ward 6 Alderman Paul Chasse Jr.

“I’m not convinced tonight that the (fire) commissioners have done their due diligence of understanding the cost of this contract, particularly in years 2010 and 2011,” Flynn said

Flynn called the contract costly, particularly when overtime and benefits are considered.

When aldermen objected that too much of the fire department’s budget was being swallowed by personnel costs, leaving little for equipment, Fire Commission Chairman Paul Garant said, “We’re going to continue budgeting with our eyes on protecting the citizens of this city, their properties and their lives.”

Morrissey said the proposed agreement was reached after 25 negotiating sessions that occurred over a period of more than two years.

Stressing that firefighters save lives, Clemons said, “It’s hard for me to sit back and put a value on the job that they do.”

He said the contract provides “reasonable” pay for the firefighters.

At the meeting, the budget review committee also unanimously endorsed a contract covering 14 civilian dispatchers who work for the police department.