Wilmington mayor vetoes ordinance that cut firefighter jobs

 (Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

(Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

On Friday, Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams vetoed an ordinance that would eliminate eight positions in the city’s Fire Department.

At a press conference held at the Wilmington Fire Department’s Station 4, Fire Chief Anthony Goode, firefighters and city councilmembers joined Williams, who said that the cuts would jeopardize public safety.

“My Administration remains committed to reducing the size of government. However, I believe the effort to control spending should be one that is collaborative and shared, and not done at the expense of public safety,” Williams said.

Previously, Goode voiced concerns that Wilmington residents would be adversely affected by the cuts. Goode said the veto allows the WFD to evenly distribute services throughout the city.

“Someone’s life over in Southbridge is no more valuable than someone’s life in Rockwood Park and vice versa,” Chief Goode said. “We have to take and evenly distribute our safety measures throughout the city.”

City Council President Theo Gregory immediately expressed disappointment after the signing of the veto.

“The Administration cannot continue the pattern of looking to citizens and businesses for more taxes and fees, while ignoring substantial cost savings from a smaller and more efficient government,” Gregory said.

Gregory advanced the idea of implementing rolling bypasses, a practice in which one fire station is placed out of service each day on a rotating basis around the city.  According to Gregory, rolling bypasses produced savings of more than $2 million during the last few years of former Mayor Jim Baker.

However, Goode believes rolling bypass will only put firefighters and civilians in danger.

“Those were only measures to control spending not a measure to save dollars. And when you start looking at it as a measure to save dollars, it hurts individuals and we can’t do that anymore,” said Goode.

Despite potential cost savings, it doesn’t look like there’s the possibility of the veto being overridden by Council.

“It’s five of us who are standing in solidarity with the firefighters, and it’s not that the other councilmembers aren’t standing in solidarity,” said Councilmember Sherry Dorsey Walker. “The five of us just looked at this and we said, yes there are some areas that need to be cut but we don’t need to cut public safety at this time.”

Gregory expressed concern for ongoing negotiations with labor unions, rising health care costs for current and retired employees and the City’s outstanding pension liability as problems that will financially impact the city because of the veto. Gregory said that had council’s $511,000 spending cut for the fire department been in place in May, the city could have avoided a 5 percent tax increase in Fiscal Year 2015.

Gregory urges citizens to read the Berkshire Report so they can see the total projected savings to taxpayers through reductions in the fire department which is posted on the City’s website at http://wilmingtonde.gov/government/firereports.

“There are a multitude of issues that concern Council. They are on the horizon and are not going to go away,” Gregory said.

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