The town’s firefighter union agreed to bring a tentative contract agreement to its 30 members for a vote after four hours of negotiations Thursday.
But don’t uncork the champagne just yet.
Town Manager Dave Bullock and town pension attorney James Linn will travel to Tallahassee to try to persuade Florida Division of Retirement officials to a plan in which firefighters would make after-tax reimbursements to the town toward any employee benefit outside of Florida Retirement of Retirement (FRS) contributions.
However, if the Division of Retirement does not agree to the plan by Feb. 1, the employee’s reimbursement would come through a reduction in wages — and the plan will be tougher to sell to the union’s 30 members.
“From a numerical standpoint, if this is not approved, I think we have a steep uphill battle,” said fire union attorney Jim Brantley.
Firefighters proposed that the town take the contributions they would have paid toward the FRS and use it for other costs, such as employee health insurance and benefits outside of the FRS.
The town agreed to wording in a contract that stated that employees will “contribute toward the Town’s cost of employee benefits other than the Town FRS contribution and other uses by the Town as it deems appropriate…”
However, if by Feb. 1, the Division of Retirement doesn’t agree on the reimbursement terms, employee contributions will be made as a wage reduction.
Ratification of the contract will require approval of 50% plus one of the union’s 30 members who vote.
Longboat Key Fire Rescue District Vice President Keith Tanner expressed confidence that members would approve it if state agencies agree to allow for an after-tax deduction.
“I think we can get it ratified,” Tanner said. “The members wanted a DB (defined-benefit) plan and that’s what we’ve accomplished. It’s not the best plan in the world, but we’ve gotten the security of a DB.”
If contributions are presented as an hourly wage reduction, Tanner said that the contract “will be a hard thing to get ratified,” although it could still get enough votes if members feel that it’s their only option if they want to keep their defined-benefit plan.
Bullock expressed support for the firefighters’ proposal at the end of negotiations Thursday evening.
“I want this to be a post-tax deduction,” he said. “It makes sense to me. I’ll work for that. The town has no other agenda.”
For more information, pick up a Jan. 24 copy of the Longboat Observer.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].