RENO, NV – In a 5-2 vote, the Reno City Council on Wednesday authorized laying off 35 firefighters despite pleas from the fire union and homeowners to preserve the jobs.
The layoffs became necessary after the city lost a federal grant that was to fund 50 firefighters next year. City staff found enough money to retain 15 of those jobs, largely by paying off a bond used to purchase city hall. Funds used to make those bond payments will now pay the salaries of those 15 positions.
But available city funds still fell short, meaning 35 firefighters will lose their jobs on July 1.
Councilman Dwight Dortch, who made the motion to proceed with the layoffs, said firefighters are overpaid and that the union should agree to salary concessions in order to save more jobs.
“We’re in negotiations again and it’s in your hands,” Dortch said to Reno Fire Fighters Local 731 representatives. “The average pay for the firefighters in this city is $129,000.”
A Reno Gazette-Journal analysis of Reno firefighter compensation shows the average firefighter made $122,000 in salary and benefits last year.
Councilwoman Hillary Schieve, who opposed the layoffs with Councilman Oscar Delgado, said Dortch wouldn’t believe that compensation was too high if he was the one needing help.
“You can’t put a price on a life,” she said. “If it’s your life or your family, you’ll think differently.”
Fire Chief Michael Hernandez warned that the city is “cutting our system to the deck, the basement.” He said response time will increase, particularly in north Reno, Somersett and Skyline Boulevard areas, where stations will be closed.
Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus asked a blunt question of the fire chief.
“With this reduction, will the citizens of Reno be safe?” she said.
“That’s a difficult question,” Hernadez answered.
Schieve said she would like to see money used to pay a $30 million settlement with the developers of the Aces Ballpark diverted to funding fire positions. The city is budgeted to pay $850,000 to the ballpark developers next year, but $750,000 is payment on a loan for relocating the fire station.
Brekhus questioned whether it was necessary for the city to hire four new police officers when it was laying off firefighters.
Earlier Wednesday, Reno Fire Fighters Local 731 held a press conference to urge the City Council to “keep its promise” to keep public safety as a top priority.
“I want them to reconsider any unnecessary expense,” union president Dennis Jacobsen said. “They are using a scorched earth approach.”