The Common Council confirmed a new fire commissioner Wednesday, then took a key vote aimed at keeping a Fire Department downsizing on schedule.
Council members broke tradition by unanimously approving Michael D'Orazio's appointment without holding a confirmation hearing. Even D'Orazio said he was surprised and "choked up" that lawmakers opted to confirm his nomination without subjecting him to a single question.
Council leaders justified fast-tracking the process by noting that D'Orazio has been interim fire commissioner for the past 10 months, ever since Calvin G. Worthy stepped down in protest of planned layoffs.
Shortly after lawmakers confirmed Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's choice for commissioner, they voted, 6-2, in favor of a controversial component of the fire restructuring. The Council approved a land deal that is needed before two North Buffalo firehouses can be closed and merged at a new site on Hertel Avenue. Lawmakers also approved funding for design work on the new Hertel facility, a firehouse planned at Fillmore and Buell and a fire station expansion at Main Street near Mercer Avenue.
The consolidations, scheduled to take place next fall, are moves tied to a planned downsizing that will shrink the size of the fire force by about 125. Some feared the cost-saving plan would be delayed after the Council unexpectedly stalled action on the land transfer last week. D'Orazio left Wednesday's meeting pleased with the Council's action.
"This helps us get back on track. Hopefully, we can open these new (firehouses) next September," he said.
Voting against the city's push to acquire the Hertel site from Benderson Development were Joseph Golombek Jr. of North and James D. Griffin of South. Golombek said he recognizes the need to close Engine 36 at Great Arrow and Elmwood avenues and Ladder 12 at Grant and Amherst streets so they can be merged at a central site. But he favors a site on Hertel just west of Elmwood Avenue, claiming it poses fewer traffic problems than the preferred parcel east of Elmwood.
Griffin questioned the economics of a deal that would trade a city-owned parking lot at 575 Delaware Ave. with Benderson for the vacant Hertel parcel that was once home to a McDonald's. He cited appraisals showing that the Delaware site is worth more than 2 1/2 times the value of the Hertel site.
Negotiators cited numerous factors in defending the deal, including new revenue the city would receive when the parking lot is placed on the tax rolls.