The Chief
November 1, 2002

Eye Emergency Cash to Boost Cop, Fire Pay

Pataki Noncommittal As Unions Back His Re-election

By Mark Daly

Six of the city’s police and fire unions declared their support for Governor Pataki’s re-election Oct. 23, a day after he proposed getting a supplementary grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that might plug gaps in the budgets of the Police and Fire Department.

Mr. Pataki’s suggestion that FEMA could provide up to $2.5 billion to pay the cost of defending New York City against future terrorist attacks could provide a windfall not only to Mayor Bloomberg, who is struggling to close a projected $5 billion budget gap, but also to the Uniformed Firefighters’ Association, which re-opened contract talks this month to seek a bigger raise than was provided in last years’ Uniformed Forces Coalition deal.

‘Solves City’s Problem’

“We believe that’s a possible option to solve the problem the city has, where they say they can’t find the money for salary increases,” said UFA President Stephen Cassidy, who was among the union leaders who lined up on the steps of City Hall to shower praise on Mr. Pataki.

The Governor last week proposed seeking a “mitigation grant” from FEMA of up to 15 percent of the disaster relief funding promised to New York after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Reports put the FEMA funding total at $16 billion although a spokesman for the Federal agency said only $5 billion has been “obligated” and an amount equal to just 5 percent of that has been set aside for mitigation funding.

FEMA is authorized to provide mitigation grants to communities affected by floods or hurricanes, so that they can reduce their vulnerability to future natural disasters. Congressional approval would be required to change the rules for a grant to New York for counter-terrorism efforts.

‘No Precedent’ on Pay’

In the past, FEMA has approved grants for equipment or construction projects. “There’s no precedent” for using grant money for salaries, said James McIntyre, the agency’s spokesman in Manhattan.

However, FEMA is aiming to be flexible in answering the needs of post 9/11 New York, Mr. McIntyre said. “This disaster is different from any other disaster, and this agency is willing to listen to the requests and priorities of the Governor and the Mayor.”

Another hurdle in the firefighters’ pay plan is Mayor Bloomberg, who has his own ideas for using the money.

“It’s for existing costs,” a mayoral spokesman said. “If it goes for new needs, then it isn’t closing the city’s budget gap.”

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, through a spokesman, said he supported using the money for firefighter pay. “FEMA money should be used to pay for raises, as the budget needs are directly because of 9/11,” the spokesman said.

Governor Pataki may have final say in any dispute. How the mitigation funding is used depends on the priorities set by the State Office of Emergency Management, Mr. McIntyre said.

‘We’ll Take a Look’

Asked if he believed the FEMA funds should go toward raising Firefighters’ pay, Mr. Pataki took pains to note that he is not a party to the city’s talks with the UFA.

“This is something that we’ll be looking at in the context of the city and the state’s budget next year,” he said. I’m sure that the city and the firefighters will continue talking and I’m confident that they will negotiate in good faith. I hope they work out an agreement.”

Any raise for firefighters beyond the UFC pattern of the 11.5 percent could upset the historical parity with police officers. In September, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association received an arbitration settlement that provided 10 percent in raises over 24 months, plus 1.5 percent in salary-related benefits that is still under negotiation.

If the UFA got money beyond the pattern, city cops would “absolutely” request the same, said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch. If it’s there, we want it.”

During the City Hall event, the Governor also was endorsed by unions representing fire officers and Sergeants, Lieutenants and Captains in the NYPD.

Cite Parole, 9/11 Work

Union leaders praised the Governor for ending parole for violent felons and for funneling emergency aid to the Fire Department after last year’s terrorist attacks.

Captains’ Endowment Association President John Driscoll called him “the greatest Governor in the U.S.,” and Fire Lieutenant Jack Ginty said “all the Governors combined haven’t done as much as Pataki has done for firefighters.”

The lone holdout in the endorsement crush was the Detectives’ Endowment Association. Its president, Thomas Scotto, said last week the union was seeking to hold its customary formal interview with Mr. Pataki before voting on an endorsement. State Comptroller Carl McCall has already interviewed with the union, Mr. Scotto said.