All the facts please.
A recent article in the OBSERVER by Dunkirk's Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak that criticized a projected $160,000 in 2012 overtime spending in the city's fire department brought a reply during Monday's Common Council meeting.
Fire Chief Keith Ahlstrom took the opportunity when Kiyak asked, as she usually does, if any city officials in attendance wished to speak. Ahlstrom read a bit from the article, in which Kiyak said the department would spend close to $160,000 in overtime in 2012. Ahlstrom said it was true the department would be close to $160,000 in 2012 overtime; but there other numbers to consider in the contract with Dunkirk Professional Firefighters Association, Inc. Local 616.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
City of Dunkirk Fire Department Chief Keith Ahlstrom responds to an article written by Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak that was published in the OBSERVER Oct. 27 during Monday’s Common Council meeting. Looking on is Department of Public Works Director Tony Gugino.
"The Fire Department took 0 percent in 2012, 0 percent in 2013. All members of the union pay 10 percent of their health insurance costs right now, the only employees of the city I believe that pay health insurance," Ahlstrom stated. "They are the only union to agree to join something called the Labor-Management Health Care Fund, which is a coalition of unions in western New York that would dramatically control the increased cost in health insurance for the city of Dunkirk. They also agreed to go from 26 members to 24 members."
Ahlstrom said the department provides the same coverage with its current 24 members as it did when it had 26 prior to the new contract.
"Our overtime didn't increase from zero to $160,000; our overtime in 2010 was $118,000; in 2011 it was $129,000. So, the increase isn't to $160,000, it's from $129,000 last year to $160,000 this year with two fewer people," he explained.
Ahlstrom said the numbers he had available show by cutting two positions the city is saving $130,000 in salary; $24,000 in pension payments; $8,000 in Social Security; $30,000 in health insurance; $2,400 in uniform allowance and another $2,300 in miscellaneous items included in the contract, a total of some $196,700 in savings.
"For that what we pay, possibly this year is an additional $30,000 in overtime; $130,000 to $160,000; and $20,000 that the members that retired get as a buyout as part of the deal," he continued.
"If you look at the budgets; even with all of that in 2011 the fire department budget was over $2.1 million. In 2012, it's projected to be at $1,923,000; a decrease of $184,931. Now if that isn't proof that the deal actually saved the city money, ... this is what our budget numbers are. There was, and I assure the public there was, savings by this contract that the city of Dunkirk negotiated last year. ... Yes, our overtime line in the fire department is going to be little bit higher this year, but what are we getting for that additional money?
"We are getting the same level of protection every hour of the day, every day of the week."
The chief added that to date the city has received $129,089 in revenues from the ambulance billing.
"You add that $184,000 in savings and the fire department has done more than its share to try and help out the city of Dunkirk," Ahlstrom concluded.
After the meeting Mayor Anthony J. Dolce, who voted for the contract as a council member, was asked for his thoughts on Kiyak's article and Ahlstrom's response.
"I really don't have any thoughts on it," he replied. "They're both entitled to their take of the situation and I respect both sides."
Ahlstrom said afterward that Kiyak was accurate in the numbers she gave.
"The problem was the rest of the story wasn't told. The newspaper editorial saying that this was a good deal for the city of Dunkirk was 100 percent right and that's what I tried to show tonight," Ahlstrom stated. "When you look at 2011's budget; the 2012 budget; there's a savings of almost $184,000. That shows there actually is a savings on what we have done by downsizing. ... I was just trying to tell the rest of the story and have all the facts out there."
After the meeting Kiyak said the chief was within his rights to explain how his department works.
"My obligation as councilwoman-at-large is to just let taxpayers know where their money is being spent and that was the intent of that disclosure on their overtime budget. That's it," she stated, adding her article was in response to an OBSERVER commentary saying city officials should "not be looking back at what the prior administration did."
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