Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse put pressure on City Council to ratify the firefighters’ union contract to extinguish the cashing burning a hole in this year’s budget.
Urgency, Papenfuse said, is needed. Late Monday afternoon, the mayor met with Council President Wanda Williams to persuade her in understanding the importance of this vote.
Previously, the fire contract issue was not a part of the agenda for Tuesday night’s Council meeting. The mayor said Council's delay on ratifying the fire union contract continues to flame $17,000.
“I’m very confident in that figure,” he said.
Papenfuse said if Council continues to delay the vote, it could burn a $1.3 million hole in the 2014 budget. He said the city has enacted a hiring freeze until the issue could be hashed out. A prolonged delay could lead to deeper cuts.
"Between now and the end of the year, we're going to have to cut certain services, personnel of jobs,” he said, “whatever it's going to take to close that budget gap."
Papenfuse said that’s a big reason why he has pushed to close “Station 6” in Shipoke. He said there are a few prospective buyers for the property, which could generate much needed income.
The mayor also painted a worst-case scenario. Besides cuts, the dozen new fire recruits could be yanked from training because the city would be unable to pay their salaries or benefits.
"We don't want to do that,” he said. “I think it would be terrible for the City of Harrisburg, but this is why Council has to act and has to act quickly."
What’s the hold up?
On Feb. 11, the city firefighters’ union came to an agreement on a new deal. The mayor noted the sacrifices and “major concessions” they made to be on par with the court-approved recovery plan.
After the legal jargon was jotted down, the contract was presented to Council in late spring. Per procedure, the contract was tabled to the Public Safety Committee, chaired by councilwoman Eugenia Smith.
Before Smith could discuss the contract in committee, the mayor proposed to close “Station 6.” Smith asked council members to delay the vote until she could hold a public meeting scheduled Monday, April 14.
The Friday prior, Smith suddenly passed away from an apparent heart attack. All issues at that point have been put on hold. The 53 year-old mother of three was laid to rest on Saturday.
A legislative session has been scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. Many expect this meeting to be an emotional affair given it is the first meeting since Smith’s passing. A special dedication will take place. So far, Smith’s chair has been covered in a red cloth with a purple ribbon placed on top.
"There's been a period of mourning,” Papenfuse said,” but that doesn't mean we can't continue. We must continue to function as a government moving forward."