New Rochelle firefighters will keep their lucrative overtime benefits in 2013 after the City Council voted Tuesday to pass an amended budget that would defray the costs by hiking fees on boaters and tennis players using city facilities.
The original proposed budget reduced the Fire Department's minimum staffing requirements from 27 firefighters per shift to 24 to help control growing overtime expenses -- if fewer than 27 firefighters show up for any particular shift, the city calls up off-duty firefighters to fill in at a time-and-a-half pay rate. The reduction would have limited those call-ups.
But City Council members reconsidered after firefighters showed up in force last week to protest the proposed change.
Councilman Ivar Hyden said he voted for the amended budget because it's "critical" to maintain public safety and emergency services, despite the down economy.
Raising fees for summer boat slip rentals and winter storage at the marina could generate about $230,000 in additional revenue annually, Mayor Noam Bramson estimated. Raising fees on recreational facilities like tennis courts is expected to bring in $10,000 annually.
Councilman Jared Rice said the increases would put New Rochelle's fees in line with those of surrounding communities, and Councilwoman Shari Rackman said the deal was "a fair compromise."
"There's never enough money to do the things you want to do, and it's a balancing act," Rackman said.
The marina fees, which range from $28 to $82 a foot for residents and $48 to $130 for nonresidents for wet slips and winter storage, are based on the size of the boat. The proposed increases would affect only city residents and would vary for each renter.
Marine industry professionals say the increases would hurt boaters who can't afford to rent slips at private marinas.
"This is outrageous," said Maurice Piot, owner of Maurice's Yacht Service in New Rochelle. "This is supposed to be a municipal marina, not a private marina. They're just trying to squeeze more money out of people who can't afford it."
The move is one of several revenue-generating proposals offered to offset other cuts in the 2013 budget.
City Manager Charles Strome's $153 million budget increases spending by more than $5 million and includes a 5.57 percent tax hike, which would require an override of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2 percent tax cap.
Council members also voted Tuesday night to keep the city's curbside leaf bagging service. Previously, a proposal to cut that service estimated $250,000 in annual savings for New Rochelle.
City officials said rising pension and health care costs will increase by more than $3 million in 2013. The increased spending is a result of payroll costs and a reluctance by the city to further reduce its workforce, which has been cut by 13 percent since 2010.