Erie fire, police chiefs share disapproval of proposed salary freeze
ERIE, P.A (WICU-WSEE/CW) – There were some tense moments as both Erie Police Chief Dan Spizarny and Erie fire chief, Guy Santone, joined Erie City Council at the table Monday night
Both Spizarny and Santone shared their disapproval of possible budget cuts and a proposed salary freeze on non-union workers.
The budget for Erie Police is over $31 million, the budget for the Erie Fire Department $23.7 million.
“We are already at the brink.” Santone said “We can’t cut anything else.”
Last Thursday, Erie City Councilwoman Liz Allen first proposed the freeze, which would halt a three-percent increase in nonunion salaries.
The freeze would impact close to 78 employees, with some on the staff of the police and fire departments, including the chief’s. Both Spizarny and Santone believe the freeze will prevent workers from taking on a promotion, as in some cases, a supervisor role can make less money.
Allen and her fellow Councilmembers are continuing to try and find ways to dig themselves out of their current $11 million dollar budget deficit.
“With Chief Santone, I agree.” Spizarny said
Allen says the freeze could save the city $140,000, but is open to hear any other ideas the chiefs may have.
"I think really good ideas do come from the grassroots, and they come from good managers." Allen said
Despite their objections, both Spizarny and Santone were willing to discuss ways to generate revenue through their departments as a way to help undercut the deficit.
Ideas ranged from adding a fee for excessive false alarms to increasing the city's parking boot program.
Councilman Jim Winarski also proposed a cut to the $1.2 million in overtime payments to the police department. The idea is to have the city supplement the cut with grant funds, though it is not clear at this time whether the grants could apply to their intended use.
Chief Spizarny says the overtime is built into their contracts and helps officers working overnight shifts.
"It's one of those costs that it's just part of doing business, it sounds like a large number, but this is a large city." Spizarny said
As the two sides continue to work ideas out, both Allen and Santone echoed a want to have more open communication. There were several times during meeting where Councilmembers shared comments of
"A lot of its siting down and hearing what the other side has to say." Allen said
Allen says the council has not considered a cut back in staff for either department.
Chief Spizarny presented his department’s plan to trial run at least three different body cam programs in 2019. They currently do not have money budgeted for the programs, which range from $300,000 – to about $115,000 for body cams alone and nearly $200,000 for dash cams. That's not counting the annual costs to store all the video.