A new three-year contract between the town of Longboat Key and its firefighters has hit a snag.
In December, the town and the Longboat Key Fire Rescue union conceptually agreed to a new proposal that includes:
• Freezing the current pension plan after allowing six current firefighters to enter the Deferred Retirement Options Program (DROP).
• A 3% cost-of-living allowance wage increase in year one and raises and cost-of-living increases in years two and three of the contract, only if other non-represented town employees receive such a raise.
• Allowing all current and future firefighters to participate in the Florida Retirement System (FRS) pension plan, with the town agreeing to match employee contributions up to 13%.
If firefighters' pensions need addtional contributions, it’s up to the firefighters to pay for it out of their paychecks.
The additional contributions, though, and how the firefighters would pay for them has become an issue.
In a memo sent to the Longboat Key Town Commission Friday, Jan. 10, Town Manager Dave Bullock explained that the FRS and the Division of Retirement is uncomfortable with the firefighters reimbursing the town for any required contributions more than the 13% cap, which would come from deductions from the employees’ after-tax wages.
FRS and the Division of Retirement, Bullock said, advised town staff they wouldn’t approve either a pre- or post-tax deduction from wages, but they didn’t have a problem if the town and the union agreed to a reduction in the employees’ wage rate to cover any reimbursement obligations more than 13%.
The town sent a revised contract that included the proposed wage-rate reduction.
For example, if an employee’s wage rate were $15 per hour and the reimbursement obligation more than the 13% cap amounted to an extra $1.50 per hour, then the employee wage rate would be reduced to $13.50 per hour.
“After reviewing our proposed Article, the (union) attorney advised that a wage-rate reduction was unacceptable; that under the law, in his opinion, the Division of Retirement had no role in the process and that it was simply a matter of collective bargaining,” Bullock wrote in his memo to commissioners.
The town will hold a negotiation session Thursday, at Town Hall, to discuss the issue.
Bullock said the purpose of the session is to see if the union will still submit the contract to its members for ratification or if the union has another proposal for the town to review. Bullock is not ruling out impasse if a final offer, which the town is prepared to make, is not accepted.
In an email to commissioners Friday, Bullock said he’s still hopeful the union will ratify the proposed contract. The commission could then ratify it after its Tuesday, Jan. 22 regular workshop during a special meeting.