Firefighters strike a deal, library stays open

On January 25, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

The West Branch Library was among several City of Somerville institutions spared the axe as negotiators came up with a plan to accommodate the new accord with the firefighters union. – Photo by Harry Kane

No immediate layoffs from city

By Harry Kane

Last minute closed-door negotiations have saved the day this week. The West Branch Library, two police substations and the Lowell street fire station will remain open.

What the city will have to do in the current fiscal year is raise a total of $3.3 million. Curtatone’s administration now has to come up with another $1.9 million to cover the agreement. Funds from vacant jobs that had been budgeted for, also known as “lag money,” have been pointed to as a proposed replacement. A small portion of that money could be allocated from cash reserves without having a negative affect on the city’s credit ratings or bond rating.

The new collective bargaining between firefighters union Local 76 agreement extends for another three fiscal years. There are no layoffs or service cuts associated with this new collective bargaining agreement. In this new accord, the firefighter union agreed to defer the rolling of their stipends into their base salaries until July 1 of this year.

With this change, there is no retroactive bulk payment called for, which would have immediately cost the city. There will instead be eight successive pay raises of similar amount. City spokesman Tom Champion also said that going forward; the union took a couple stipends off the table so not all the official pay raises will be rolled into the base effective July 1. Those are advantages that will save the city about $467,000. Conversely, the city has agreed to fund wage increases for the next three years.

The city had $2.4 million dollars remaining in the salary contingency fund, which is set up to pay for collective bargaining.

Last week, as the city sought to hammer out the details of a $4.3 million dollar back payment to the Somerville Firefighters Union, there was some uncertainty as to where the funds would come from, causing this tenuous situation.

As a result of a decision made by the Massachusetts Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC) that was to award to Local 76 a back-pay award, on January 12, the Mayor and the city administration was required to submit a plan to the Board of Aldermen on how they could fund the additional $4.3 million dollar expense.

Curtatone’s plan raised eyebrows when it was found it involved layoffs of approximately 30 individuals and the closure of the West Branch library. There were a number of other closures that would have had to occur as a result of the plans to pay for this appropriation in the current fiscal year.

The main focus is to protect the cities fiscal flexibility for the future, thus not spending so much out of Somerville’s cash reserves to fund current operating expenditures that it undermines the bond rating and the ability to make future investments at a cost in interest payments that the city could afford.



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