NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – New Rochelle firefighters union President Byron Gray wants his department to be adequately staffed when fighting fires so the city can be better protected.
The stress caused by bigger fires, he said, makes having enough backup crucial for the safety of the firefighters and the city.
Fire department staffing is among several items facing cuts as New Rochelle struggles to craft a budget its citizens can afford while still providing essential services.
Gray was one of many residents who spoke during a budget hearing in front of New Rochelle City Council members Tuesday.
City Manager Charles Strome and Finance Commissioner Howard Rattner said when introducing the document Nov. 9 the budget would preserve most of the city's services and require a 5.57 percent property tax levy increase.
The proposed budget would eliminate curbside loose-leaf pickup, an expected $250,000 savings for the city that would require residents to bag their own leaves.
The proposal would cut police staffing by two positions and reduce firefighter staffing during certain times, especially at night, based on recommendations of the city’s Citizens Panel on Sustainable Budgets.
The fire department says a truck will have to go unused if manpower is reduced further because of unforeseen circumstances such as injury or illness, as three firefighters ride a truck on each call.
The City Council will vote whether to increase the number of firefighters or keep the reduction, and whether to restore leaf pickup when it votes on the budget Tuesday, Dec. 11. A time is to be determined.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, District 1 council member Louis Trangucci and District 5 council member Barry Fertel, who suggested the amendment to the budget, felt the service should be put back in because it is a service the city provides to the community.
District 6 City Council member Shari Rackman said she did not want to risk spending an additional $300,000 for more fire staff.
The city plans to further look into how the department can be improved. In the meantime, the department will be adding six more firefighters in February using grant money.
The city hopes to prevent a $1.5 million shortfall through property tax increases and reductions in city expenses, Strome and Rattner said.
To accomplish that, the budget calls for the real estate tax levy increase of 5.57 percent.
Strome said during a briefing Nov. 9 that the tax levy increase equals a 6.99 percent tax rate increase because the city’s tax base decreased by $3.6 million this year.
Strome said the proposed tax increase for the average homeowner would be $207, or about 1 percent of the homeowner’s total tax bill, which includes county and school district taxes.
New Rochelle resident James O’Toole said taxes should be raised so the city would not have to worry about the same budget issues every year, and be able to start anew in four years.
“Let’s just cut to the bull,” he said.