Elgin council likely sticking with $700,000 fire department overtime cut

 
 
Updated 12/8/2017 8:19 PM

Despite union opposition, the Elgin City Council appears inclined to cut firefighters' overtime by $700,000 to help balance the 2018 general fund.

On-shift staffing would be reduced to 32 from 34 firefighters at seven stations, yet personnel responding to ambulance calls -- which represent 80 percent of fire calls -- would not be affected, city officials said.

 

Councilman Rich Dunne, a former fire marshal, said at Wednesday's council meeting the overtime cut would negatively affect safety, response time and the department's insurance rating. Fire Chief Dave Schmidt said it's difficult to predict where and when fire calls take place.

Dunne proposed avoiding overtime cuts by increasing revenue. He suggested taking on fire alarm monitoring, buying into a larger health insurance pool through the state firefighters' association, and leasing equipment.

Only Councilman Corey Dixon supported Dunne's motion. The others said they want to stick with the plan while looking into boosting revenue next year.

Elgin Association of Firefighters Local 439 has been lobbying to avoid the overtime cut, saying the department needs more, not fewer, people on shift. Union officials have asserted in recent weeks that firefighters' injuries have increased since 2005, when the department switched to a high-overtime model. City officials say that's not true.

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Local 439 President Joe Galli said data from the fire department's internal database shows injuries rose from 2 in 2002 to 60 in 2016, with a high of 98 in 2011.

But the city's risk management department data shows that there were 48 injuries in 2002 and 60 in 2016, with a high of 107 in 2011, Corporation Counsel Bill Cogley said.

The two sets of data are very similar from 2016 to 2013, with the discrepancy growing as the data gets older.

"Mr. Galli's information is wrong," City Manager Rick Kozal said. "Records retained by the city's risk management department do not show any discernible trends with firefighter injuries. The staffing changes at fire stations 1 and 2 pose no additional safety risks to the firefighters."

Galli said he has presented the union's data to Kozal and council members, and questioned why city officials wouldn't tell him they believe it's wrong.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"If (Kozal) is disputing them now, we are not offended, but show us where they (the numbers) are. Prove it to us. Why wouldn't you want to show it to us?" Galli said. "We're trying to keep everything out in the open. We're trying to talk as much as possible."

Cogley said the union could have asked the risk management department for the data.

The firefighters' contract ends Dec. 31, and the union has asked the city to engage in interest-based bargaining, which involves a federal mediator. The union said the process would be speedier and allow quicker implementation of agreed-upon revenue-boosting measures. The last time, contract negotiations lasted more than two years.

"The city has successfully bargained with its collective bargaining units using traditional methods and believes that is the best means for reaching agreement with the firefighters' union," Kozal said.

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