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Dispute Grows Over Expense of Firefighter Funerals

Dispute Grows Over Expense of Firefighter Funerals

Thousands of people attended the funerals for Firefighter Jonathan S. Croom and Lt. Charles W.

Buffalo News via YellowBrix

February 24, 2010

BUFFALO – Officials say the city will reimburse the firefighters union for most expenses related to the funerals of two firefighters who died last year, but it will not put up money for alcohol served at the receptions.

“It would be foolish for the city to engage in underwriting alcohol- related expenses,” Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo said Tuesday.

The city has a long-standing unwritten policy of not paying for alcohol, SanFilippo said, claiming liability issues and other concerns.

But the president of the firefighters union said he will fight that decision in arbitration.

“We don’t want the [partial] check,” Daniel Cunningham told The Buffalo News. “They pay us what they owe us — which is $25,000.”

City auditors said receipts indicate that $9,630 of the expenses submitted for reimbursement by the fire union involve alcohol that was served at three receptions following the August funerals. Cunningham said the figure is actually about $7,600, claiming auditors incorrectly categorized costs associated with setting up bars that also served soda.

The city is contractually obligated to pay up to $12,500 in funeral expenses for each firefighter. SanFilippo said his office is prepared to authorize a check for the balance owed — minus the alcohol charges. Cunningham said a partial payment is unacceptable. Cunningham also accused city officials of raising the alcohol-related issue in a thinly veiled attempt to smear the reputations of firefighters.

“They’re trying to make the public think we’re drunks,” he said.

He disagreed that the city would expose itself to any liability risks, claiming vendors who supply alcohol at events assume the liability.

SanFilippo insisted the comptroller’s office has only one motive: to make sure the city follows proper reimbursement procedures.

Cunningham said the funerals and receptions would have cost tens of thousands of dollars more had it not been for the generosity of many companies and individuals who made various donations.

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