By Sean Collins Walsh
The Philadelphia Daily News
PHILADELPHIA — It's a familiar sight these days.
Firefighters lined City Council chambers to heckle a Nutter administration policy and cheer those questioning it.
About three dozen firefighters showed up in union colors to a public-safety committee hearing Wednesday that probed the administration's decision to, once again, appeal a ruling that would give firefighters retroactive pay raises and other financial awards.
City Finance Director Rob Dubow reiterated the administration's position that the city would have to pay more than $200 million over five years, resulting in cuts of about 2 percent to 5 percent for many city departments.
"The city cannot afford those costs without making painful budget cuts that would damage key services," he said.
The firefighters scoffed at Dubow. One of them held up a sign reading, "How much is the ice rink?" referring to the project outside City Hall.
Bill Gault, president of the firefighters union, said the award would cost only $66 million over the four-year life of the stalled contract, from 2009 to 2013.
The committee considered a resolution, introduced by Councilman David Oh, that seeks to pin down — possibly through an outside review — the cost to the city of enforcing the arbitration ruling.
In an interview, Nutter said he and his team "respect, revere and appreciate the heroic work of Philadelphia firefighters. . . . We need to have an award package that not only we can afford, but has the kind of reforms we need and have received in other arbitration packages."
City Controller Alan Butkovitz testified that the city can afford the award, but is dragging its feet.
"This award is inevitable," Butkovitz said to applause, noting that it had been upheld twice in arbitration and that a Common Pleas Court shot down an appeal.
"When you say that you don't have money to pay for that, what is it that you do have money for that comes before that?" said Butkovitz, whom some expect will run for mayor in 2015 and is building support with the firefighters.
Councilman Jim Kenney, another possible mayoral candidate, joined in. "Anyone who's willing to go to work in the morning and not come in at night should be treated with more respect," he said.
— Jan Ransom contributed to this report.
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