The town and its firefighters began bargaining in September 2011, and Town Manager Dave Bullock and the Longboat Key Town Commission won’t let it drag on much longer, town labor attorney W. Reynolds Allen said during Nov. 15 contract negotiations.
Still, firefighters presented a proposal Thursday that was “sufficiently interesting” enough for town consideration, Allen said, and warrants another meeting.
Firefighter union attorney Jim Brantley started out by outlining proposed pension modifications but emphasized that the changes would be part of a package proposal and couldn’t be considered independently.
The offer would freeze the town’s firefighter pension plan for current and future employees, as proposed by Bullock. But, instead of switching firefighters to 401(a) accounts, as Bullock proposes, current and future employees would transfer to the Florida Retirement System, with employees contributing their required amount to the plan.
Two weeks earlier, town officials told firefighters that a different proposal that would place new hires in the FRS didn’t meet Bullock’s requirement of predictability for future obligations. Instead, the town’s contributions would be determined by the Florida Legislature.
But Thursday’s proposal differed because it would include both current and future employees, who would also contribute 6% of their salaries toward the frozen plan until they retire, enter the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) or have contributed toward the town’s plan for an amount of time equal to the amount of time they earned benefits under it.
The proposal would allow all employees covered by the current plan to become immediately vested. The current plan requires five years of service before vesting.
The plan would also include modifications that would allow Lts. Pete Collandra and Tom Batchelor and firefighter/paramedics Frank Stoudt and Rob Jacobs, who are nearing DROP eligibility, the option to enter the program. Firefighter/paramedics Keith Tanner and James Martin are currently eligible for DROP.
“It certainly is an interesting proposal,” Allen said, asking to see what else it encompassed.
The changes would be contingent on firefighters receiving a 2.5% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in the first and second years with no step increases, followed by a step increase and a “me too” COLA provision in which firefighters would only receive the COLA if other town employees received it in the third year.
“We’re beginning to get a compression issue, which the step was beginning to address,” Brantley said, referring to the issue of longstanding employees receiving the same pay as new hires. “At some point, we need to get the step plan’s motor cranked up again.”
The town brought a counterproposal Thursday to a different proposal that firefighters had presented two weeks earlier.
The town proposed incorporating Bullock’s proposal and increasing firefighter pay by 1%. It also came to the table with a one-year deal that Allen said he was prepared to offer Thursday but did not present.
Allen asked to schedule a meeting with the union again in the next couple of weeks but added a cautionary note:
“I don’t want you to misinterpret that what I’m saying is we are close to an agreement,” he said. “But your proposal is enough to tweak our interests.”
Bullock still involved with negotiations
Town Manager Dave Bullock was unable to sit in on the entire negotiation session Nov. 15, which prompted rumors among firefighters that he’s stepping back from the negotiation table to allow labor attorney W. Reynolds Allen to negotiate for the town.
Former Town Manager Bruce St. Denis rarely attended negotiation sessions, but Bullock has taken the opposite approach since he arrived a year ago.
Bullock told the Longboat Observer his negotiation style hasn’t changed.
“I just had a lot going on that day and couldn’t attend the entire meeting,” Bullock said.