Emerging from a small meeting room after more than 90 minutes of closed-door discussions Thursday about possible concessions, both city and municipal union leaders were smiling.
Tom Bentivengo, a firefighter, called it “a very good meeting, very productive.”
Though no decisions were reached – and apparently no concrete measures were even put on the table – city leaders said they’re happy that union officials are willing to discuss possible change to existing contracts that might save taxpayers’ money.
Mayor Art Ward said that after the union officials have a chance to talk with their rank-and-file during the next week or so, more sessions will be held that will go into more depth about possible courses of action.
As an opening step, Ward and several city officials met with leaders of municipal unions to lay out the budget situation and explain why there’s a $1.8 million gap that needs to be covered by concessions or layoffs, unless unanticipated revenue arrives.
Without concessions, the city is eyeing as many as 30 layoffs to trim its costs, but Board of Finance and elected officials say they don't want to put anyone on the unemployment line if they can help it.
They also say, however, that they plan to freeze property taxes, which eliminates one source of securing the needed money to fund the expected budget.
The city plans to adopt its annual budget on June 4, assuming a legal change is approved next week to push back the budget adoption deadline.
Ward said that gives the city a few weeks to talk with each of its unions and see what, if anything, can be worked out.
Though participants didn’t want to talk about what they said behind closed doors, somebody left behind their notes.
One question, clearly written by a union official, asked, “When the economy improves, are you going to replace what you want from us now?”
That’s something Ward is sure to hear, if he didn’t hear it Thursday. The answer is one of many unknowns surrounding the talks.
Some cities around the state have laid off or furloughed workers. Some municipal unions in other communities have agreed to wage freezes and other measures that have helped stave off layoffs.
It isn’t clear what will happen in Bristol, but it was obvious after the initial meeting that both union and city officials are keen to cooperate.
“It’s pretty open right now,” Ward said.
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