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North Tonawanda Common Council unofficially votes down Ortts budget

BY: Kori Sciandra | October 25, 2012

NORTH TONAWANDA - Council members expressed their concerns during the Tuesday, Oct. 23 common council workshop, regarding Ortt’s preliminary 2013 budget.

One proposed item of topic in the mayor’s budget was adding two members to the payroll of the North Tonawanda Fire Department. As per requested by North Tonawanda Fire Chief John Lapham, with the addition of these two persons a financial change would be made to the overtime costs.

Although not included in the 2013 budget, North Tonawanda Police Chief Randy Szukala requested four additional persons to be added to the payroll as police officers. Ideally, Szukala wanted four additional officers, however he was willing to settle for two additional persons in order to create what he feels is a complete and adequate number of officers on the job.

North Tonawanda Common Council President Rich Andres felt there was an equal need from both the fire and police departments to add an additional person. Therefore, rather than voting “yes” in support of the mayor’s proposed budget suggestions, he suggested that one individual be added to the fire department and one individual be added to the police department.

“That was my only suggestion. We got some numbers from Mark Dotterwich [city accountant] to indicate what exactly it would change in the budget,” said Andres. “It would change it by $8,417 total and that would be a July hire for the police department and a March hire for the fire department.”

Ortt responded to Andres and explained the process taken in making the decision to add the two fireman.

“When I added those two fireman, I had a discussion with him [Lapham] about the OT; both deferred, which is the fire time and the regular operational OT,” said Ortt. “We talked about bringing that down to what I view was an acceptable level. He thought that with the two new guys and some extra effort, that could happen. That was also budgeted, that’s kind of how we funded these two new guys. So, if we are going to go to one fireman and one police, it needs to be addressed in those numbers.”

Szukala stated one guy, rather than four, would at least help the department to be better prepared for 2013.

Alderman Mal Needler, who sided with mayor, questioned the reasons why Ortt chose to add fire personnel and no police.

Ortt replied, “One of the big issues was OT. If you look at the OT in the fire in the last year and a half, it was pretty high. I think some of that is manageable. Even if we didn’t add firemen, I think some of that could come down. I think obviously adding two guys would help with that. On the police side, the OT was down, which is a positive. It was down from last year. This is not a reward or a penalty. The police officers we have do a great job, and the firemen also do a great job. By adding those two in there, I thought we could lower that OT.”

He added, “I would not have put it in my budget if I didn’t think they needed the two firefighters, if I didn’t think it was necessary and if I didn’t think we could afford it.”

The fire department was reduced heavily several years ago, by about 12 positions. Both Ortt and Alderman Russ Rizzo wanted to uphold the promise made to the fire department by a previous council, that when the city got back on its feet they would attempt to rebuild the man power within the fire department.

The addition of the two firemen would be staggered so that the impact on the budget would be less.

Although both Rizzo and Needler supported the mayor’s budget and felt it was a responsible budget, Alderman At Large Nancy Donovan and Third Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka voted against the budget proposal and supported Andres decision of adding one person to the fire department and one to the police department, ending the workshop in a three to two vote against adding two fireman to the payroll of the North Tonawanda Fire Department.

Those necessary changes are expected to be made to the budget and a copy will be available for residents at both city hall and the library.

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