The city council delayed the merger of the city’s police, fire, and office of emergency management into a new public safety department on Wednesday night over salary questions.
Council members wanted to know how much mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration would spend on the deputy public safety director’s salary.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said he was “apprehensive” about the merger due to the new expenses it will create. He asked for the salary of the new deputy director post. Business administrator Nellie Pou did not have an amount as to how much the deputy director will be making.
Pou was also reluctant to answer 5th Ward councilman Luis Velez’ question whether the unified public safety department will be headed by police director Jerry Speziale. The city at present has directors for police and fire.
Torres serves as the director of the fire department. The mayor is not compensated for the fire director post.
“Does this work without the assistant director?” asked Morris. “The budget is going to be very tight.” He said there’s little room in the municipal budget to create a new position and incur expenses.
The business administrator said she is unsure whether the arrangement is even “functional” without a deputy director.
Fire chief Michael Postorino said the merger will reduce public safety expenses by cutting out duplicative services. However, cutting those duplicative services could result in the axing of city residents who work in both departments, said Morris.
Besides the questions about the salary of the new deputy director, the city has no such position in its legal code. Council president William McKoy noted the city has to create this position before it can adopt the ordinance creating the new public safety department.
Though there is no such position in the city’s code, the merger ordinance refers back to a position that is ostensibly in the code. McKoy called the administration’s ordinance “sloppy.”
The merger means the city will have a new communication center at the Paterson Police Department which will include the Department of Public Works, fire, and police. This will allow for better response time and coordination between the various departments in the event of an emergency, said Speziale.
There will also be a backup communications center at the new Stoney Road firehouse. The fire department headquarters will serve as the nexus for all communications in the event the police department loses connection or cannot be used.
The departments will also share a computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. Paterson is in the process of borrowing $1.56 million to upgrade its communication system. Postorino said the merger will require six months to complete once the needed approvals have been passed and the needed equipment purchased.
Paterson has previously had a public safety department; however, that was disbanded. Speziale said the state’s major cities have unified public safety departments.