The town manager doesn’t believe pay/pension issues will ignite hiring concerns.
Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock doesn’t share Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi’s concern when it comes to replacing six longtime firefighter/paramedics set to retire beginning in 2016.
Last week, the Longboat Observer reported about Dezzi’s concerns that the current defined benefit plan and wages that firefighters agreed to as part of their current three-year contract that expires Sept. 30 is inhibiting his ability to attract new firefighters.
But Bullock told the Longboat Observer May 1 he doesn’t believe the pension plan the union agreed upon as part of a three-year contract that expires Sept. 30 puts the fire department in jeopardy.
“I don’t believe we will have a problem (attracting new hires to the Key),” said Bullock, who sets the tone for the town on firefighter contract negotiations that will begin this summer.
Bullock points out the department lost only one firefighter/paramedic in 2014 and one so far in 2015. The department is making plans to fill both of those positions this month.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Bullock said. “We’re not losing firefighters.”
But Dezzi told the Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key April 23 that in nearby municipalities and counties, firefighter/paramedics pay the required 3% FRS contribution, and the rest of the agreed upon contribution is paid for by municipality, regardless of how high it goes. By contrast, the town and firefighters agreed to split the town’s required pension contribution 50/50 with the town’s contribution capped at 13% of an employee’s salary.
Six veterans must retire beginning in May 2016 because they are enrolled in the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) duties, and Dezzi is concerned his department won’t be able to fill an institutional knowledge gap those veterans have.
“The numbers speak for themselves. We’re not losing firefighters.”
— Town Manager Dave Bullock
And the hires who do agree to come to Longboat Key, Dezzi said, don’t have a long-term commitment to the department like they did years ago.
Longboat Key Fire Union Vice President Keith Tanner disagrees, noting that the last two non-officer firefighter/paramedics who left were two of the fire department’s most recent hires.
“I agree with the town manager that we won’t have trouble hiring new employees,” Tanner said. “But the problem is we’re attracting candidates that are fresh out of school that don’t have the experience the town has expected in the past.”
Tanner said two recent hires were let go within their probationary period, and the two most recent departures the town seeks to replace were new hires who used the job as a stepping stone to go elsewhere for better wages and benefits.
Tanner said he hopes that when contract negotiations begin this summer, the town will decide whether it wants firefighter/paramedics with at least five years of experience both as a firefighter and as a paramedic.
“Before we wanted the best, and the standard to achieve that was having wages and benefits that attracted those individuals,” Tanner said. “Now we’re spending more time paying firefighter/paramedics to train newbies that don’t stick around for long.”
Tanner said the union is preparing to negotiate wages because firefighters have not received step increases in the last six years, and there’s no pay separation gap between new hires and veterans.
“We agreed with the current contract because we wanted to keep a defined-benefit plan in place,” Tanner said. “But now we’re way behind on wages and we have guys in their first year with almost the same base pay as a four- or five-year veteran. If this next contract goes south, you’re going to see a mass exodus and a different kind of department.”
Town staff and the firefighters are still working on comparable wages and pension plans from nearby municipalities that will act as a discussion point during negotiations.