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Utica In Line For SAFER Grant, Pending Council Approval

Utica, NY (WIBX) – Utica may be adding eight new firefighters with a federal SAFER grant announced today by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

It covers the salary and benefits of all eight new hires for the first two years, then the city would be responsible for those costs in the third year, and beyond, if the city kept all eight, Mayor David Roefaro said.

Roefaro believes it would relieve some financial concerns for the city by not only reducing overtime costs, but also increasing public safety at a minimal cost, with city only paying for one year of salaries and benefits in exchange for three years of service.

Also, ‘pension padding’ would be reduced, he said, because those overtime hours are often given to the department’s most senior members, increasing their pensions.

Utica’s firefighters do not receive overtime pay as most other workers do because their pay for those overtime hours is the same as ‘straight time’, Fire Chief Russ Brooks said a recent city council meeting. He said a study conducted several years ago determined it was financailly beneficial for the city to use overtime rather than hire additional firefighters, and assume the costs of salary and benefits for additional staff, despite some increase in pensions.

While the city pays the salary and benefits for the eight additonal positions in year three of the grant, Roefaro expects the city wouldn’t have any additional burden as he expects there will be retirements within the department by then.

If there weren’t, those new hires would be let go by the city, Roefaro said. “The last on would be the first off,” he said.

The Common Council will need to vote to accept the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) program grant.

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