Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that a bill setting minimum staffing levels for city fire equipment could threaten homeowners with higher property taxes by encouraging other municipal unions to lobby for similar legislation.
"What that bill is, is a guaranteed overtime bill masquerading as a public safety bill," the mayor said. "If you do it for the Fire pTC Department, what is the argument against doing it for the Police Department or for jail guards? I would argue that this is a mechanism for raising taxes for people."
The mayor repeated his vow to veto the bill, which would require fire officials to staff pumper and ladder trucks with four-member crews. The measure passed unanimously Monday in City Council after receiving strong support from the two city firefighter unions.
Council President Mary Pat Clarke left open the possibility yesterday that the council might be persuaded to sustain the mayor's veto should the Board of Fire Commissioners make four-member engine crews Fire Department policy.
Last week, the mayor asked the board to call for four-member crews when possible but to let the fire chief to field three-member crews in cases of manpower shortages. But yesterday, Mrs. Clark said the council was still wary of the mayor's promises because he assured it last spring that four-member crews would be restored by September.
"We have been sitting on this legislation since the spring," said Mrs. Clarke, who said Mr. Schmoke's assurances last week that four-member crews would be restored in December fell on deaf ears.
Should the council override his veto, the mayor said, he would ask a court to void the law as an illegal infringement by the council on the powers of the fire chief.
The mayor said that, in effect, allowing such a law to stand would allow labor unions to gain changes in work rules by lobbying members of the council, rather than going through the collective bargaining process.
But council members said the practice of sending out three-member crews, adopted last June when a negotiated reduction in the workweek left fire officials short-handed, poses a serious threat to public safety because smaller crews are less effective in fighting fires during the critical moments before a backup crew can arrive.
Had fire officials not resorted to three-member crews, Mr. Schmoke said, the city faced the prospect of having to pay $750,000 per month to call in off-duty firefighters and pay them overtime.