CRESTVIEW — Three of five City Council members have reluctantly nodded to raising ad valorem taxes while the firefighters union presented a proposal to force senior management members into early retirement.
City Clerk Betsy Roy left Thursday’s budget workshop — which Fire Chief Joe Traylor called "a spirited debate” — with somewhat of a council consensus to finalize a budget based on a .25 percent millage increase.
Most of the three-and-a-half-hour meeting focused on the Crestview Fire Fighters Association’s proposal to force Traylor, Deputy Chief Cedric Peterson and Battalion Chief John Rydell into retirement.
Traylor confirmed that the three firefighters are eligible to retire, and that at least three more will be eligible for retirement during the next fiscal year, but said that it should be up to the firefighter to decide if it is time he should retire.
"The offer of early retirement is probably an appropriate thing to do," Traylor said. "If people accept it, then they accept it."
Capt. Jim Poirrier, the firefighters union’s president, said forcing the three department leaders into early retirement would be preferable to laying off a junior firefighter, who would receive no pay.
"If you can send a person home without a paycheck, you can send someone home with a retirement check for the rest of his life,” he said.
Of the three, two, including Traylor, have fewer than 20 years of service and could retire with about $60,000 in annual retirement pay. Peterson, with 30 years of service, would be eligible for $89,000 annually in retirement, Poirrier said, using data he received from Finance Director Patti Beebe.
Junior firefighters' starting pay is between $25,000 and $28,000.
The union estimated the city would trim $301,000 from its budget by retiring the more highly paid senior management and replacing them with lower salaried junior leaders.
Council members were cautiously receptive to the idea, but generally agreed it was not feasible to implement the plan this year. Council President Robyn Helt pointed out that previous realignments in other departments have been successful.
Councilmen Joe Blocker, Shannon Hayes and Mickey Rytman spoke in favor of accepting the budget as presented by Roy at the start of the meeting, while Helt and Councilman Tom Gordon continued their stance that a tax increase was unacceptable.
"I don't think it's reasonable, I don't think it's fair, and most importantly, I don't think it's sustainable,” Helt said of a millage increase.
The meeting abruptly adjourned at 8:30 p.m. in mid-debate upon Hayes’ motion and a voice vote of approval.
Want to go?
A public hearing on the proposed 2013-14 city budget is 5 p.m. Sept. 10 at City Hall.