By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — While a 2013 budget proposal put together by North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt during the last several months will not be released publicly until Friday, the common council moved to make a change.
During Tuesday night’s work session in an informal straw poll of sorts, the council agreed to make a shift, sending one of two planned new hires from the North Tonawanda Fire Department to the police department instead.
Fire Chief John Lapham and Police Chief Randy Szukala have been vying for additional employees to scale down overtime costs and add to their units, both of which have seen a decline in overall employee numbers.
Szukala had requested four additional employees, with 45 officers currently, while Lapham asked for two, which would add to its present total of 36 firefighters, according to council members.
While unofficial and by a show of hands, the council voted 3-2 to to add one position to the police ranks and nix one from the fire department, striking down part of Ortt’s proposal.
Council members Rich Andres, Eric Zadzilka and Nancy Donovan were in favor of the shift, while Russ Rizzo and Mal Needler said they thought the mayor’s plan was the correct course of action.
While all lauded the mayor’s budgetary efforts in most every other respect, particularly that the plan calls for no increases in property taxes, those who voted to change his employee arrangement said it came down to trying to spread out needs in both departments.
“We’re basically reshuffling things at this points,” said council President Rich Andres. “There’s no 100 percent answer in this business, unfortunately. I know that some people are upset and some people are happy, but we try to mange as best we can.”
Andres also cited budget problems several years ago that caught some of the police department’s corps, while Third Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka said rising crime in the southwest corridor of the city partly spawned his decision.
“I felt that at this point it was important,” Zadzilka said. “I also believe that we need to give the tools necessary for both departments to get the job done.”
First Ward Alderman Russ Rizzo said previous budgetary conversations with Szukala led him to believe that despite overtime costs, which he says stand at just over $200,000 for 2012, his department could make do with the status quo, while he also recalled promises made in 2004, when he was a councilman.
“I was a little disappointed because during my first stint on the council when we closed the Rescue Fire Hall and took a truck away from them, I believe we eliminated two or three positions as well,” Rizzo said. “I remember the mayor at the time said if the tax burden was ever at zero percent, we would make them whole again.”
Alderman Mal Needler said he was pleased with Ortt’s proposal and didn’t want to see a hasty change.
“That mayor and his team put a couple of months into the budget and took everything into account and I couldn’t see changing it at the last minute,” he said.
There will be a public budget hearing Nov. 8.Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.