BY BARBARA POLICHETTI
Journal Staff Writer
CRANSTON -- The firefighters union last week released data that it says debunks the findings of a recent study that recommended a sharp reduction in staffing and the closing of at least one fire station.
"The whole message of the firefighters union is safety -- and there's no doubt that if these staffing cuts are made and these station closings happen, then firefighter and citizen safety in Cranston will be seriously compromised," said Paul Valletta Jr., president of Local 1363 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Valletta was responding to the recommendations and findings released this month by a private firm the city hired to conduct "performance audits" of both the Police and Fire Departments.
In its review, conducted over a period of about four months, Carroll Buracker & Associates, of Harrisonburg, Va., recommended that the city eliminate nearly one in four firefighter positions and close at least one of its six fire stations.
Specifically, the firm recommended that the number of firefighters be reduced from 202 to 158, and that the Sockanosset Cross Road and Oaklawn Avenue fire stations be consolidated.
The firm concluded that Cranston is paying more for fire protection, and has more firefighters per 1,000 residents, than any other Rhode Island municipality of similar size.
Not true, Valletta said, showing comparisons with other Rhode Island cities and town that show that the Cranston department's budget ranks third in the state and that the department ranks fourth in terms of the cost per 1,000 residents.
The key reason for the discrepancy, he said, is that the Buracker report did not take into account that the Cranston Fire Department budget, about $24.69 million, includes $7.4 million in pension payments to retired firefighters.
"That figure is not included in any other fire department's [operating) budget," Valletta said. Once that number is taken out, he said, Cranston, the third-largest municipality in Rhode Island, is "right where it should be."
Valletta said the accuracy and relevance of much of the Buracker data is questionable because the firm did not consistently compare Cranston with other Rhode Island cities and towns as was required by the bid specifications.
He said the firm often used regional cost averages based on data compiled by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) -- a professional organization that serves as an information clearing house and education resource for cities and towns across the country.
Buracker is clearly not making comparisons within the state as the city stipulated in its bid specifications for the study.
"We don't know if it's comparing us with a fire department in Maine, or ones that use volunteers," Valletta said. "We don't know if these other fire departments include rescue service or if that is separate."
The performance audit shows that Buracker used ICMA for the New England area to show that Cranston has more firefighters per 1,000 residents than municipalities of similar size in the region.
In contrast, Valletta said, when the firefighters union did the same comparison with fire departments of similar size within Rhode Island, Cranston ranked sixth -- behind North Providence, Johnston, Woonsocket, Providence and Warwick.
"I do not consider this report worth the paper its printed on," Valletta said. "I think the city should either sue the company or not pay the bill. They did not follow the bid specifications and compare us to similar municipalities within Rhode Island."
MAYOR Stephen P. Laffey and Paul Grimes, his director of administration, stood behind the Buracker report Friday and said they were not impressed with the data put together by the firefighters union.
"What they're trying to do is shoot the messenger," Laffey said.
Grimes acknowledged that, in some places, the report does not clearly identify fire departments used for comparison and that it does rely on regional averages listed in the ICMA yearbook. Still, Grimes said, he considers that a valuable comparison -- and that he was not surprised the Cranston department looks reasonable when compared with others in Rhode Island.
"This is probably the most labor-friendly state in the country," he said.
"We reject the notion that a good comparison is limited to Rhode Island departments such as Warwick or Pawtucket," Grimes said.
He added that he believes Cranston "can get a better level of services without paying more."
Laffey stressed that the report is just the starting point for the city which will spend the next two months reviewing the findings.
He noted that he has established a committee to go over every aspect of the Buracker report -- regarding both the Fire and Police Departments. That administrative committee, which Laffey said has already met a couple of times, consists of himself, Grimes, the police chief, the police major, the fire chief and the assistant fire chief.
"In the end I want to have safer and more efficient services for the city," Laffey said.
He said it was telling that the firefighters, unlike members of the Police Department, walked out of meetings with Buracker representatives and did not participate in the study.
Valletta said the union had made no secret that it considered the firm biased, based on its experience with Carroll Buracker during a 1997 arbitration proceeding. He said the firefighters were not going to cooperate with a performance audit they felt was weighted against them before data was even collected.
"[Buracker] already had a history with the city and we knew what his perception was of this fire department," Valletta said. "We also knew that he was getting his orders from the mayor and this local was not going to be part of a study that would suggest cuts that would put at risk the lives of our members and citizens."
Valletta said that the firefighters union will ask the City Council tonight to look at the data that it has gathered and hold a special meeting so the facts can be reviewed publicly.
"It is the union's hope that we can show the City Council and citizens just how biased this report is and how numbers used in the report are erroneous," Valletta said.
Executive Summary of the audit
The Fire Department portion begins on page 29.
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Thread: Cranston Union Refutes Audit
01-27-2004, 04:54 PM #1
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Cranston Union Refutes Audit
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01-27-2004, 05:03 PM #2
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That was yesterday. This is today.......
Council will conduct its own study of police, fire performance audit
By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ
Journal Staff Writer
CRANSTON -- The City Council will conduct its own review, separate from the mayor's office, of a performance audit of the city's Police and Fire Departments.
Councilwoman Cynthia M. Fogarty, who heads a special subcommittee on performance audits, has scheduled a meeting Thursday, Feb. 5 at 6 p.m.
Mayor Stephen P. Laffey has already begun reviewing the study, in consultation with Fire Chief Robert Warren; Police Chief Michael Chalek; the mayor's director of administration, Paul G. Grimes, Personnel Director Susan A. Bello and Finance Director Jerome I. Baron.
Fogarty, a Democrat, last night asked Grimes why no one from the Democrat-controlled council was sitting on the Republican mayor's review team and if someone could.
No, was his response.
"It's an executive performance advisory team," he said.
The $135,000 performance audit, by Carroll Buracker & Associates, of Harrisonburg, Va., was commissioned by the City Council at the mayor's request. One of its key recommendations is to eliminate nearly one in four firefighter positions and close at least one of the city's six fire stations.
The firefighters union, Local 1363 of the International Association of Firefighters, last week issued a scathing response to the consultant's proposals. Fourteen firefighters attended last night's council meeting.
Kenneth Rouleau, chairman of the union's executive board, told the council that the audit fails to compare Cranston with other comparable communities, particularly ones in Rhode Island.
"We feel there are flaws in the audit and we want to present them," he said. "We want to compare apples to apples."
Republican Councilman Allan W. Fung, alluding to the union's refusal to cooperate in the Buracker study, asked, "Why did you guys walk out on that initial meeting?"
"We didn't want to be part of something where we felt the assumptions were already made," Rouleau replied.
He recalled that representatives of Carroll Buracker testified against the firefighters during arbitration proceedings in 1997.
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