After more than three years, too many meetings to count and more than one impasse, the Longboat Key Fire Rescue Union has ratified a new three-year contract with the town. The contract freezes the current firefighter pension plan and caps the town’s financial responsibilities.
Human Resources Manager Lisa Silvertooth and Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi confirmed the ratification noon Thursday, Feb. 21, at Town Hall.
The town’s 30 union members voted in shifts at the town’s two fire stations Feb. 20 and Feb. 21. The vote was 16-14.
When asked about the close vote, Longboat Key Fire Rescue District Vice President Keith Tanner said, “My goal was to bring something to the table that would benefit everybody. I think it benefits everyone in this department, but you can see some people might not agree with me.”
Town Manager Dave Bullock and the Longboat Key Town Commission must officially sign the contract at a future meeting.
“In my opinion, it’s the best deal we were going to get from the town, and it’s good for everyone in the department,” Tanner said. “It’s a much better option than what was originally offered and secures a defined benefit plan for firefighters.”
The union vote comes a month after the Longboat Key Town Commission unanimously ratified the contract at a Jan. 22 special meeting.
The town and its firefighters reached a tentative agreement in December to freeze the firefighters’ current pension plan and enroll current and future firefighters in the Florida Retirement System (FRS) plan.
The town and firefighters will split required FRS contributions 50/50, with the town’s maximum contribution capped at 13%, according to the agreement.
The Florida Division of Retirement and FRS have also agreed that firefighters can make after-tax reimbursements to the town toward their employee benefits and won’t have to make pre-tax reimbursements toward their new pensions, which would have reduced their wages.
Longboat Key commissioners are pleased with the hybrid pension solution. The town is expected to offer a similar plan to the Longboat Key Police Union when it begins meeting in March to discuss a new three-year contract. A goal of the commission has been to freeze the current pension plans and begin paying off more than $27 million in unfunded pension liabilities.
“This group of commissioners was hell-bent on doing this,” Mayor Jim Brown said. “We didn’t want to kick the pension debt down the road any longer.”
Commissioner Jack Duncan was also pleased with the vote.
“This was a huge accomplishment for this commission and the firefighters and will help solve a lot of problems,” Duncan said.
Capping Rising Pension Costs
The town and firefighters will split required Florida Retirement System (FRS) contributions 50/50 with the town’s maximum contribution capped at 13%, according to the new contract.
For example, the current FRS employer contribution is 14.9%. Employees and the town would each pay 7.45%. (Employees would also pay an additional 3%, which is their required contribution toward the plan.)
If the required contribution rose to 28%, the town would pay 13%, while firefighters would be responsible for 15%, in addition to their required 3%.