Another busy day of budget hearings for Rochester City Council Tuesday. It focused largely on two departments which, in the past, were largely considered untouchable.
Public safety went under the microscope – city council inspecting spending by the Rochester police and fire departments. Cops and firefighters are not immune to the cuts proposed by mayor Tom Richards, to close a $50 million deficit.
In the Rochester Police Department, chief Jim Sheppard's total workforce would go from 753 positions, to 726.
“From my perspective, I'd like to have 100 more officers,” said Sheppard. “But the fact of the matter is we have to take the resources we have and be smarter about how we deploy them and about how we go about our jobs.”
The Rochester Fire Department stands to lose 28 positions. Chief John Caufield's roster of firefighters is ten percent smaller than a decade ago.
“It's certainly had a significant impact on the department,” said Caufield. “We've had to change around our operation, and our mindset on how we're going to provide critical services.”
The budget crunch also means there is little work that can be done to improve city fire houses, some of which are a century old. The last new fire house went up in 1980.
The chief knows that can't be a priority, right now.
“Our first obligation is to keep our fire houses open, our fire trucks operating, maintaining the excellent level of service,” said Caufield.
City council Tuesday also approved an early retirement incentive package, designed to lower pension and pay costs in the long run. Officials say it could make the cuts easier, on a personal level, by avoiding layoffs.
But, says Richards, there is still a reality.
“As much as we've been able to mitigate the personal impact, what I suppose what's sinking in now, is we will have fewer people,” he said. “The obligation will be on us to manage our way through that.”
With some veteran cops expected to take advantage of the retirement incentive, Sheppard told city council volunteer work and community interaction will get strong consideration when it comes to promotions.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for next Tuesday. City council votes on the plan June 21.