The petition, backed by the local firefighters' union, would ensure that the current number of Fire Department personnel would be "continuously maintained" in future budgets. Any proposal to changing the staffing level would require two public hearings and approvals by both the City Council and the majority of city voters.
In a new colleagues' memo, to be discussed at Monday night's meeting, council members Karen Holman, Larry Klein and Greg Scharff are calling the proposal "bad government." The petition would "effectively give the Union veto power over any changes to firefighter employment regardless of the wishes of the citizens of Palo Alto or their elected representatives."
"The largest component of the budget is staff salary and benefits," the memo reads. "It is incumbent upon the City to evaluate the appropriate staffing levels for all City departments, including public safety in an effort to reduce costs while minimizing any impact to services."
City Manager James Keene's proposed fiscal year 2011 budget identifies only one position in the Fire Department for elimination — a hazardous-materials specialist.
The firefighters' union current contract expires June 30, and the union is preparing to negotiate with the city over a new agreement. Tony Spitaleri, president of the firefighters' union, said the staffing level at the department is at a "bare bones" level and has remained relatively flat over recent years, despite an influx of calls.
If the firefighters' petition gathers the required 5,446 signatures (15 percent of Palo Alto's registered voters) to qualify for the November election, it would cost the city about $190,000 to hold the election. Council members called this "a waste of money in this time of extremely tight budgets."
The union represents 109 full-time-equivalent positions — about 10 percent of the city's workforce. According to city data, firefighters earn an average of $104,878 and $16,001 in overtime (an average of $178,387 when benefits are factored in).