RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- Washoe District Judge Lidia Stiglich will render a decision on June 24 that could decide the fate of 32 Reno firefighters. In May, the City of Reno put those firefighters on notice they would be laid off July 1, after the city lost a significant federal grant.
The Reno Fire Fighters' Association took their concerns to court to try to force the city to fund the positions. Local 731 Vice President Seth Williams testified it was his belief the city was violating the City Charter and union agreement by going forward with the lay-offs. He and others testified that staffing levels would be reduced to 1977 levels, and the city has grown significantly since then. Also, Williams said that firefighters safety and the public's safety at large were at stake.
Later in the day, City Manger Andrew Clinger and Finance Director Robert Chisel took the stand. Clinger agreed some response times might be slower, but safety was not an issue. He said he based that belief on his discussions with Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez. He said Hernandez assured him and the Reno City Council the resources could be managed to ensure the public and firefighters stay safe.
Clinger also explained when he came on board, the city had just incurred significant budget cuts, significant lay-offs and reductions in services. He had to negotiate with the city's collective bargining units to obtain concessions to close a budget gap. Also, Clinger that the city was under watch by the Nevada Department of Taxation, and was trying to renegotiate debt service restructuring on some of the city's bonds.
There was also discussion about ending fund balances and budgeting for vacancies. CPA Beth Kohn-Cole testified she believed the city had overbudgeted in some areas. She also said the city has the money to finance the fire positions through increased revenues and ending fund balance, as well as vacancies.
Finance Director Robert Chisel said the city is trying to increase its ending fund balance from the mandatory 4-percent to 7 or 8-percent. He stated in the past, the city had fallen below the 4% measure which could be in violation of state law and bring about a watch from the Nevada Department of Taxation. He said it was not arbitary to bring the ending balance to 7 or 8-percent, because it is considered a fiscally sound margin.
Chisel also explained the city does not budget for vacancies, because the city is required to have sufficient funding for pay-outs of employees who decide to leave. "The City does not have any extra money. If we have to retain 32 firefighters, we will have to lay-off people in other areas, other departments."
The SAFER grant would have funded 50 positions. However, through attrition and the city's ability to fund 17 positions, the number of lay-offs now stands at 32.