It was a split City Council.
Not on the vote, but on the call of the vote.
Despite some Councilors such as Ben Allatt and Susan Brown Wilson implying the vote should be expediently called to ratify the Fire Union contract– the last of the three collective bargaining agreements to be sealed to fit the Harrisburg Recovery Plan—at the implore of the State, President Wanda Williams threw the discussion into committee.
On Monday at 6:00pm in City Council Chambers, the public will have their chance to voice opinion, but that doesn’t mean the residents of Harrisburg will have any influence to change the terms of the contract or the closing of Downtown Station 6.
The options are this—City Council can ratify the contract negotiated between the fire union and the City of Harrisburg. Or they can say no.
Saying no will cost the City $17,000 a week according to Act 47 Coordinator Fred Reddig. Not only that, but saying no will take the City back to “square one,” City Solicitor Neil Grover said. “And we don’t exactly know what that means.” He punctuated his point by alluding to the fact a budget crisis could occur and grants could be lost. In fact, the Budget Director Bruce Weber said, “If Council doesn’t pass this contract, firefighters will have to be laid off.”
Acting Fire Chief Brian Enterline stated it means the state will come in and call the shots. The firefighters union negotiated a staffing of 14 fighters to one commanding officer on shift, down from 16 to 1. “I’d like to have 20,” Enterline said, “but I don’t know where we’ll get the money.”
He said if the City and the union can’t reach an agreement then the state will come in and dictate the terms down to 11 to 1. “Then we’d have to close two stations.” And he also said, “I’m not a happy camper,” but declared the options are limited while the City is a fiscally distressed municipality. “Once we get out of Act 47, we can take our fire department back, we can take our city back.”
The firefighters union said it did not negotiate the closing of a station. “That’s a City decision.”
And indeed it was. The staffing terms were negotiated, but once those terms were agreed upon, the City determined to close Station 6, the oldest of the four stations in Harrisburg.
“We didn’t agree to that,” the fire union president declared.
City Councilors Eugenia Smith and Sandra Reid adamantly disagreed with the City’s decision to close the Downtown station. “No one even talked to us,” Smith said.
But colleague Ben Allatt pointed out that City Council’s authority on this matter is moot, and President Wanda Williams agreed. “This is what happens when you negotiate union contracts.”
That didn’t stop her from delaying the vote, though.
On Monday, April 14th the public will have its opportunity to discuss the situation. The Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing on the closing of Station 6. “They deserve that,” Smith said.
Not everyone agreed. Councilor Susan Brown Wilson was overhead saying, “But you can’t change it.”
For more, see Patriot News reporter Don Gilliland’s article: City Council decides to spend $17,000 and wait a week to ratify firemen’s contract