A last-minute compromise Friday between Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and the City Council spared four of the 10 firefighters facing layoffs as the result of the strained city budget.
The surprise deal capped a week of vocal lobbying over hiring priorities, in which the city's search for a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator took center stage. Following Friday's deal, six firefighters are still set to lose their jobs as a result of frozen state aid, after the city already used contingency funds to keep 31 of their colleagues on the job.
Fire Chief Alex Jackson has warned the layoffs will result in longer response times, but said Friday he expects the compromise to mitigate those effects. Several firefighters are also expected to retire, making room for some laid-off employees to be recalled.
"We did something today you didn't see at the Capitol or in Washington -- we compromised," Rybak said after the meeting. "And that compromise saved some firefighters' jobs. It didn't put more pressure on property taxpayers."
The council had tried to save all 10 firefighter jobs using one-time funds, but its attempt to override Rybak's veto of its proposal fell one vote short Friday.
The final compromise package, which passed unanimously, found more permanent savings to spare the layoffs through 2012 by eliminating 12 vacant positions in other areas of city government.
The firefighters union has campaigned aggressively this week to protect all of the threatened jobs. They distributed fliers in Council Member Robert Lilligren's district Monday and showed up en masse at Friday's hearing wearing yellow shirts.
Union president Mark Lakosky said the deal still leaves the city shorthanded. "It's a compromise on the backs of the citizens as far as public safety," Lakosky said.
Some of the vacant positions that will not be filled include a deputy police chief and police captain, as well as two city planners and a city attorney. Rybak said he had already planned to cut the positions in his 2012 budget proposal, expected later this month.
Bikes take center stage
Council members also voted to eliminate two additional positions and send the savings to the fire department, though Rybak said afterward that their decision was too rushed. His office said he is mulling whether to veto that measure.
One position that did not get cut was the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, which Council President Barb Johnson tried to eliminate. Her proposal failed 11-2.
The job opening was posted a day after Rybak vetoed the measure to save the firefighter jobs and quickly became a flashpoint in the debate over city spending priorities. The Department of Public Works is not filling other part-time vacancies to pay for the position, which will oversee all bicycle and pedestrian issues on new transportation projects. That job is now being done by several engineers who lack the necessary expertise, according to advocates of the new job.
Those advocates, many holding bicycle helmets, showed up at the council meeting and found plenty of support at the council. "Every single day we see the effect of bike and car collisions," said Council Member Gary Schiff.
The final major vote of the day was on a measure sponsored by Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy to use contingency funds to keep the six firefighters on the force. It failed on a vote of 9-4.
The fire chief said he will be able to add one firefighter to each shift as a result of Friday's compromise. "It's a huge plus to us," Jackson said.
Jackson has retained a consulting firm to examine the department's deployment models and its broader needs and operations. Colvin Roy said she would prefer not to lay off any firefighters until the city hears back from those consultants.
Of Friday's vote, she said, "It is a good thing, but it isn't everything yet."
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper