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SPARKS FLY BETWEEN COUNCIL, FIRE BOARD

Meeting in an atmosphere charged with hostility, members of the Fire Board told the Common Council Wednesday they're tired of having their power usurped by the aldermen.

The spark that set off the argument was the Council's attempt in January to direct the Fire Department to turn over its radio dispatching to the Niagara County Sheriff's Department by June 1.

The Council also is upset over high overtime costs in the 51-member Fire Department: $345,000 last year, $367,000 in 2003.

After three aldermen said costs need to be cut to protect the taxpayers, while vowing no layoffs, Fire Board member Elroy D. Powley said the Council needs to communicate with the board.

"I think all three of you missed the point," he told the aldermen, brandishing a photocopy of the City Charter that gives the Fire Board authority over the department.

"You can sit there and hide behind the the Charter," Mayor Michael W. Tucker barked back. "If you've got some issue, you can come to us. . . . We don't have to report to the Fire Board."

Powley said that the firefighters' union had filed an unfair labor practices charge with the state Public Employment Relations Board over the Council's dispatching edict.

"I have not heard any firefighters say they oppose (county) dispatching," Tucker said. "I think they want to negotiate it. They don't want it jammed down their throat."

He called for a future closed-door session between the Council and the board to talk "nitty-gritty, contracts, personnel. Then, after we get out of there, we'll have to negotiate it with the firefighters."

Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite said the switch to county dispatching would cost about $40,000.

He said he doesn't want to start preliminary work until the Fire Department completes its change to high-band radios in about two weeks.

He said the county doesn't want to install the two special phones for the Fire Department until it moves into its communications center, which could be at the end of the year.

"It could be February. It could be March," Passuite said.

On another topic, the Council liked Police Traffic Capt. Ronald Vogt's proposal to spend $15,000 in overtime for officers to conduct enforcement blitzes against heavy trucks using Main Street. But, it doesn't know where the money can be found.

Trucks of more than five tons are barred from the street, but some truckers use it as a shortcut. Vogt said he wants to start the truck blitzes about June 1, before the $3.3 million reconstruction of the street is done.

The penalty in the revised truck ordinance is $250 or 15 days in jail. Vogt said the city keeps the entire fine and could pay for the overtime with the fines.

The Council also discussed whether to interview candidates for assistant city engineer or retain a private firm for engineering services. There was sentiment for hiring a company such as Wendel Duchscherer temporarily while interviewing candidates.

In a closed session, corporation counsel John J. Ottaviano presented a proposal of a new water rate contract with Delphi. Figures were not released and no action was taken.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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