- May 23, 2010
Akron might be laying off police officers at the same time it's hiring firefighters.
The city plans to hire eight firefighters to replace some retirees — and to protect federal funds that just returned 37 laid-off rookies to the job.
The city also announced Monday that as many as 139 officers and 60 other employees could be laid off, depending on the size of the budget shortfall as determined later this month.
''This is how scattered the numbers are. They are laying off but hiring,'' said Paul Hlynsky, president of Akron's 447-member Fraternal Order of Police union. ''They are rewarding people who conceded and punishing people who felt they couldn't concede.''
When asked for a response, Mayor Don Plusquellic, who was in Washington, D.C., to discuss funding issues with federal officials, said, ''I do not intend to respond to the FOP president.''
Plusquellic plans to issue a news release today detailing what was accomplished in Washington, Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth said.
The city released a grid Monday that showed the potential number of layoffs for every $1 million of budget deficit as of Aug. 20. Notices would be delivered by the end of the month, with layoffs beginning Sept. 12.
Finance Director Diane Miller-Dawson is projecting a $4 million deficit by the end of the year. That would equate to layoffs for 93 officers and 34 other employees, for a total of 127, according to the layoff grid.
The layoffs would affect only the unions representing police and health department nurses, which are at impasse with the city,
and the Civil Service Personnel Association, which agreed to concessions that extend until early September.
The city and nurses union soon are expected to begin the state fact-finding process and a fact-finder's report on the police contract is expected by the end of this month.
The fire union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees recently approved three-year contracts with concessions, including no raises for two years. Akron agreed to no layoffs in the fire union this year.
The city is restricted in its ability to lay off firefighters by about $6 million in federal funds it received to bring back 37 laid-off firefighters.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Response (SAFER) grant, which will cover the salaries and benefits of those 37 firefighters for two years, requires the city to maintain the level of staffing it had when it received the funds.
For Akron, that number is 311.
Deputy Chief Rob Ross said the department will begin interviewing candidates this morning for a class of eight it plans to begin training in September or October. The rookies would replace one laid-off firefighter who chose not to return and other firefighters who have retired or soon will.
The firefighters will come from an eligibility list that expires Aug. 27.
Ross said Akron also might make conditional job offers to up to 30 more people on the eligibility list. The city would offer to pay for these candidates' training but not hire them until positions become open.
This would give the city a pool of firefighters ready to start the job quickly.
''It would take three to four weeks to get them ready to go out to a company, versus three months or more,'' Ross said.
Plusquellic proposed this to federal officials as a way to maintain compliance with the SAFER staffing level requirement. Federal officials gave a verbal nod to the plan, though Akron hasn't gotten formal approval, Ross said.
''The fire department made concessions,'' Ross said. ''We are not trying to increase our numbers. This is money that will be reimbursed by the feds. If we don't maintain this, we will lose the federal money.''
Grant spares jobs
Akron also received a $5.8 million federal COPS Hiring Recovery Program grant last year that spared 23 officers' jobs. The police union agreed last year to an initial round of concessions that kept officers from being laid off.
The COPS grant provided Akron with funding for the 23 officers' salaries for three years and required the city to assume the expense in the fourth year. The grant doesn't have minimum staffing requirements like SAFER.
Plusquellic met with officials from the U.S. Justice Department this week to discuss the city's options regarding the grant if officers are laid off.
''My guess is, we are not the only city going through this,'' police Chief Gus Hall said. ''We are seeing this across the country.''
Numerous cities have laid off firefighters, police and other employees to address budget problems. Many cities have received federal funding to avoid layoffs or to return employees to work.
''We're going to pull out all the stops to do everything we can to save as many officers as we possibly can,'' Hall said.
Hall is hopeful the city and police union will again be able to reach an agreement that avoids layoffs. He also is hoping Akron eventually will be able to hire officers. The police department has an eligibility list that expires next June.
In the meantime, Hall said, the department is dusting off a plan created last year regarding how to respond in the event of layoffs. The plan involves changing officers to different shifts and requiring many of those in specialty units to return to the streets.
''Anything we do would result in robbing Peter to pay Paul,'' Hall said. ''We would have to give up something to respond to calls for service.''