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Longboat Key Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012 5 years ago

Impasse looms for town, firefighters

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

The tension between the town of Longboat Key and the Longboat Key Fire Rescue union is building, leading up to a 2 p.m. Nov. 1 meeting to discuss pension modifications for a new firefighter contract.

The town and Longboat Key Fire Rescue District union officials are set to meet one last time Nov. 1 at Town Hall to discuss a new contract. The town will declare impasse if the union doesn’t bring them a pension contract proposal that’s satisfactory to Town Manager Dave Bullock’s requests.

Bullock stated that he’s looking for a contract with pension modifications that are fair, predictable and sustainable enough to pay off the plan’s more than $27 million in unfunded liabilities. He is also considering freezing the firefighters’ pension plan and transitioning them to defined-contribution 401(a) plans.

A stalemate is brewing, though, because firefighter/paramedic and Longboat Key Fire Rescue District Vice President Keith Tanner told the Longboat Observer Tuesday a 401(a) plan is not acceptable to the firefighters.

Tanner also said the union has presented fair proposals that the town has refused to consider or even counter with another offer.

“I think the proposals we have brought to the town have been more than fair and are definitely saving the town money,” Tanner said. “The town doesn’t seem to want to work with us on anything.”

In August, the union proposed a contract that included closing the current pension plan to new hires and placing them in the Florida Retirement System pension plan.

Under that proposal, current firefighters already in the pension plan would keep their plans, with some concessions, including:
• Keeping existing employee contributions at 10% of payroll;

• Reducing the multiplier used to calculate final pension payouts from 3.5% to 3% for all benefits accrued once the change is made;

• Capping final pension payouts at 85% of salary, whether an employee retires or enters the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP). Current vested members, though, would not apply and could exceed that cap;

• Cost of Living Allowances (COLA) adjustments would not begin until seven years after pension payouts had begun;

Tanner said that actuary firm Foster & Foster calculated the potential savings of the proposal to be at $18 million.

Last month, the town hired actuary firm GRS to perform its own savings calculations at a cost of $5,000. The town met briefly with the union to tell it the savings weren’t enough and impasse would be declared soon if the union didn’t present an offer with substantial savings to the town.

“There were savings in the proposal, but a couple of million dollars here and there spread out over a 20-year period that’s not predictable does not meet the town’s objective,” said Finance Director Tom Kelley.

Tanner, however, said he wished the town would negotiate with the union.

“We feel like we are negotiating with ourselves,” Tanner said. “The town has never changed its position from day one, while we have come up with multiple proposals we feel will help the town that aren’t even considered.”

Tanner noted that four firefighters have left in the last couple of months and are being replaced with younger firefighters who have less experience and need more training.

“The changes the town are proposing to us are not going to make us competitive in our industry,” Tanner said. “When these guys can get better benefits across the bridge, they are going to go.”

Despite the fact that a new contract has yet to be reached, Tanner said the town’s firefighter level of service has already changed.

“Past commissioners and residents have always stated they want a higher level of service, but that service has decreased,” Tanner said. “Guys are leaving, and this place has become a training ground for younger firefighters.”

Tanner said he doesn’t believe impasse is the answer but couldn’t divulge what kind of proposal, if any, the union plans to present to the town next month.

Kelley, meanwhile, said the town has been clear about its stance from the beginning.

“If they don’t present something that meets the town’s goals, then the town’s plan is to go to impasse,” Kelley said. “It’s on them to come up with something that has substantial savings. It’s time to move the process along or go to impasse.”


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