The town of Longboat Key has rejected the firefighters’ latest contract proposal, offering one last three-year proposal that includes a raise in year one of the contract and leaves the pension issue at impasse to be discussed at a future date.
The contract, though, comes with a catch.
By agreeing to the deal, the union must agree not to litigate, arbitrate or contest the future freezing of the firefighter pension plan or a declaration of financial urgency that could be filed with the state to move forward with terminating the plan for future employees.
The town’s proposal, dated Nov. 19, states the town manager intends to appoint an employee committee to evaluate firms that will apply to administer a future defined-contribution plan for employees. Bullock wishes to invite a bargaining unit fire union member to be a part of that committee.
In a letter sent to fire union attorney Jim Brantley Nov. 21, town labor attorney Reynolds Allen explained that the latest offer, in which firefighters expressed an interest in shifting their pensions to the Florida Retirement System, “is not acceptable.”
“(The latest offer) still does meet the goals we have articulated from the beginning for the retirement approach for the town going forward, i.e., predictability, a cap on the town cost, no risks based on educated guesses by actuaries and a ‘pay as you go’ approach,” Allen wrote.
Allen said a shift to the FRS is not acceptable because it does not accurately define future costs for town obligations.
“It seems clear to us that except for wages and pension, we are on the same page with the IAFF (union) as far as a three-year agreement based on the status quo with the improvements the town manager has included in his prior package offers,” Allen wrote.
Allen outlined what he called “the town manager’s best and final three-year package proposal,” which includes a 3% wage increase in the first year retroactive to Oct. 1.
“We strongly believe the way to go is for the town and the IAFF (union) to execute a three-year contract leaving out any mention of pension,” Allen wrote. “We suggest that the pension issue is then at impasse and will be resolved through the statutory impasse procedure for final resolution.”
The town and the union will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, and Friday, Dec. 7, at Town Hall to discuss the contract.
But the contract proposal doesn’t appear to be one that firefighters are willing to accept during negotiations next week.
Firefighter/paramedic and Longboat Key Fire Rescue District Vice President Keith Tanner told the Longboat Observer the union intends to offer another contract proposal during the negotiation sessions, but declined to disclose the contents of the contract.
Lower assumption rates
The town of Longboat Key’s unfunded liability for its three pension plans will continue to rise past the $27 million mark.
That’s because the boards of the police, firefighter and general employees’ plans are all planning to lower the assumption rates used to monitor the progress of all three town pension plans.
Although all three plans have had an 8% assumption rate for years, the pension plans have not met that mark, and other pension boards around the state have started to decrease their assumption rates to a rate that the plans can achieve.
The Police Officers Pension Board has agreed to lower its assumption rate to 7.5%, and the firefighters’ and general employees’ pension boards will hold future special meetings to discuss lowering their rates, as well.
In the short-term, lowering the assumption rates for the plans from 8% to 7.5%, for instance, means the town will receive a pension liability bill for payroll that’s 3% to 5% higher than it is now.
Some pension board members are worried about making the change.
“If we change the rate, we are telling the town your funding is going up at a time when they are looking to close the plan,” said General Employees Board member Ron McDonough.