Clash of philosophies A divided UEZ board votes to hire firefighters
by Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Jan 20, 2007 | 277 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Councilmen Anthony Chiappone and Gary LaPelusa voted against using funds from the Urban Enterprise Zone to hire 12 new firefighters at a meeting held on Dec.19 - although the board voted in favor of the move.

Terrace Malloy, chief financial officer for the city, said Bayonne could justify the use of UEZ money provided the hiring was not used to supplant existing services.

The proposal - if approved by the state - would allow UEZ funds to pay for 75% of the salaries of 12 new firefighters.

Although Chiappone argued that the remaining 25% of these salaries would come out of a municipal budget not yet approved by the city council, Malloy said the cost would be offset by the overtime the city is currently paying to provide fire protection services with a fire department staff 20 to 21 people under the current number required for the table of organization.

The proposal would use about $600,000 in UEZ funds to pay 75% of the salaries and benefits for 12 new hires to man the often closed firehouse on the former Military Ocean Terminal - although the fire department would be free to use these rookies throughout the city and provide a mix of veterans at the base.

The UEZ is partly funded through a rebate in sales taxes. These funds are supposed to be used within the zone for programs that help stimulate business.

LaPelusa, however, questioned whether the city needed to hire any new firefighters at this time, saying several firefighters had claimed no new hires are needed. He said he wanted to refrain from hiring additional people until the city completes a study on fire and police needs.

Chiappone wanted to delay the vote until he could question fire officials about what the needs of the department were.

But Malloy pressed the members, saying a tight time frame required that the board vote before the end of the year. He said the UEZ approval is the first step in the process that would need the approval of the city council in January, before going onto the state for approval in March.

Unfortunately, the existing list for firefighters expires in March. If the UEZ or council delays this hiring, the opportunity may be missed for a year or more while a new hiring listed is generated.

Malloy said while the city is currently 20 or more below its TO, this gap will likely increase with retirements.

While the two councilmen opposed the hiring, other board members said the move made sense, partly because this would increase the public safety of the city.

Malloy said the 12 new fire fighters would be hired to reopen and keep open the firehouse at the former Military Ocean Terminal.

"One the stipulations of this would be that we would open the firehouse 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year," Malloy said.

LaPelusa argued that a plan is being created that could possibly combine several firehouses into one location, and would void the need of this unit.

Malloy, however, said that plan may be more than a year away, and that the firehouse at the former Military Ocean Terminal may be necessary because of increased activities there, such as the construction of new townhouses and the arrival and departure of cruise ships from Port Liberty.

"We may not have fires on the base, but with construction and the arrival of ships, we might have other emergency situations," Malloy said. "You have to remember the firefighters are first responders and make up our rescue team."

Board member Shelia Antczak argued that the hiring made sense partly because more than 20 existing firefighters become eligible for retirement in 2007.

"While they may not all retire, some will," she said.

Chiappone said he disliked the short deadline for passage and asked why the board had not been notified sooner to give more time to look into the department's needs.

"I'm not saying I'm against hiring these firefighters, what I'm saying is that we don't have time to get the information we needed to make a decision," he said. "I also do not like doing anything that will have an impact on the budget before we - the city council - have passed the budget."

Although the city managed to overt a budget crisis thanks to down payments by developers for a section of the MOTBY, the city still faces budget short falls for this year. Chiappone and LaPelusa have been seeking ways to cut expenses and have pressed for a hiring freeze.

Prior to the board meeting, Chiappone said he disliked this move by the UEZ because he felt it was a way to "get around" restrictions on hiring.

Michael O'Connor, who serves as the board's treasurer, hoped the board could come to a consensus on the matter, but offered to give LaPelusa and Chiappone another week to gather information.

"We can call a special meeting before the end of the year," O'Connor said.

LaPelusa, however, said he needed no additional time, and the board eventually voted to approve the matter despite the negative votes by both councilmen.

Malloy had hoped the two would abstain rather than vote against the measure since a negative vote would raise a red flag at the state UEZ Board, where the matter will ultimately end up.

Peter Hilburn, who also serves on the Bayonne Parking Authority, called the hiring "a damned good deal."

"We're getting 12 fire fighters at 25% of the cost, and most of that 25% we pay already in overtime," he said.

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