Fire, police civilian jobs fall to city's 2nd day of cuts

By Beth Kassab | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted June 11, 2003




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PHOTOS



At Orlando City Hall. (JOE BURBANK/ORLANDO SENTINEL)
Jun 10, 2003







Orlando's police and fire departments fired a combined dozen employees and eliminated 11 more unfilled jobs Tuesday as cutbacks continued to whittle away nearly 10 percent of the city's work force.

The agencies emerged relatively unscathed compared with cuts across other city departments as Mayor Buddy Dyer reiterated a campaign promise that public safety would not be compromised.

Although no sworn police officers or firefighters were let go, the unions representing the two groups made several concessions that helped trim costs.

New police cars will be Impalas, instead of more-expensive Crown Victorias. Some firefighters will give up extra yearly "high-risk" pay. Also, both departments will push back equipment upgrades.

"It's not as important as rescue trucks going to Mrs. Jones' heart attack," said Steve Clelland, union leader for the firefighters. "We had to ask what we can cut that will not slow down the trucks and not reduce response times. We had to deal with it."

The changes were announced on the second day this week of mass firings at City Hall, part of Dyer's plan to streamline city departments that he said were top heavy with managers and to help curb an anticipated shortfall of more than $20 million next year.

By the end of the week, nearly 300 positions, including about 80 that are currently unfilled, will be eliminated. Those cuts equal about $11.8 million in annual savings.

This year, the city will reap a savings of only about $1 million because of benefit and severance packages paid to terminated employees, Dyer said.

Of the 10 largest cities in Florida, Orlando had the second-highest number of employees per capita before the cuts, according to 2001 population estimates and a 2002 Florida League of Cities survey.

Dyer reiterated Tuesday that he thinks the cuts to the workforce are necessary to make the city more efficient, despite the chilling effect the decision has had on morale.

The mayor said today will be the final day that employees will be forced to watch their longtime colleagues pack their belongings and be escorted out of the building.

"These are the toughest few days in anything I've ever done professionally or politically," Dyer said.

Police Chief Mike McCoy and Fire Chief Bob Bowman would not release the names or positions of the people they fired Tuesday, saying that information would be made available today .

The jobs, however, consisted mostly of secretaries and other administrative positions that they decided they could do without.

"We're operating smarter and faster, and we're going to continue to look at ourselves every day and say, 'We can do it cheaper and we can do it smarter, but never at the expense of public safety,' " McCoy said.

Orlando has more full-time police officers per capita than the state's other nine largest cities, including Tampa, St. Petersburg and Fort Lauderdale, according to 2000 data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

McCoy said that is necessary because of the number of tourists who visit Orlando each year.

"A lot of our calls are driven by outside people who aren't residents," McCoy said.

In addition to cutting positions, McCoy said he plans not to fill the job of a deputy chief who is scheduled to retire and will condense the department from four bureaus to three.

Bowman said he will move three union employees from administrative jobs back to fire-fighting positions and will put off hiring 15 people to staff a new firetruck that is on order and scheduled to arrive at the department this fall.

The cuts, he said, will mean some workload increases for employees and changes in the way certain programs are run.

"Is it going to be a drastic increase? No, it's not going to be a drastic increase," he said. "I think we can do things on the same scale with less."

Melissa Harris of the Sentinel Staff contributed to this report. Beth Kassab can be reached at 407-420-5448 or bkassab@orlandosentinel.com.