CRESTVIEW — A vote by the city council Monday evening has resolved an issue affecting the city's contract with the local firefighters' union.
A fiscal crunch that led to wage freezes for city employees, and the loss of six city employee jobs, also will apply to the city's firefighters.
Officials from both sides of the issue quickly noted that negotiations were always amiable, with both sides working to resolve the matter and acknowledging the fiscal downturn that precipitated the issue.
Crestview Fire Department's 39 International Association of Fire Fighters members were to receive a 3 percent cost-of-living raise, the same amount generally given to all city employees. However, when the city was $2.5 million short, city Finance Director Patti Beebe directed all department heads to cut their budgets by 10 percent.
Cuts included an across-the-board elimination of all employees' 3 percent salary raises and implementation of five unpaid furlough days for each city worker. Negotiations with the union to implement the salary freeze began in May 2012 as city leaders worked to produce the 2012-13 fiscal year budget.
The union's three proposals to find savings in other areas than the wage freeze were deemed unworkable.
To revise the contract, it was necessary to declare an impasse had been reached in the negotiations, which would automatically send the matter before a "special magistrate" for binding resolution. The city declared the impasse in writing on Sept. 27, 2012.
While special magistrate Martin O. Holland considered the matter, firefighters received their contracted raise when the new budget year began Oct. 1, 2012.
"The impasse before the Special Magistrate is the result of the serious economic downturn and its impact on the city's budget, according to both parties, and not a lack of willingness of the parties to make significant attempts to solve the problem causing the impact," Holland's proceedings report of Jan. 30 stated.
The report made particular note of the efforts of the city and union's efforts to resolve the matter amicably, noting the long-standing friendly relationship between the two parties.
Ultimately, however, the city's position prevailed.
"In order to provide the wage increases, the city would be required to take additional cost-saving measures in other areas, including layoffs, position eliminations and furlough days, seriously impacting the service to the public," Holland's report stated. "The union did not effectively refute the testimonies."
After reviewing testimony from union and city attorneys, union President Jody Smallwood and Fire Chief Joe Traylor, City Clerk Betsy Roy and Beebe, Holland wrote, "I recommend adoption of the city's position to treat the union members equally as all other employees during the current (fiscal year) financial crisis. Therefore, I recommend not granting the scheduled 3 percent wage increase."
Councilwoman Robyn Helt — moving to accept the magistrate's recommendation — said, "the magistrate noted the city followed all the appropriate protocols and it was accepted amicably by both sides."
The IAFF proposals
Working with city officials to resolve a contract requirement for 3 percent firefighter raises— while raises for other city workers were eliminated— the International Association of Fire Fighters' local chapter proposed three cost-saving measures:
•Restructure police and fire department dispatch unit to cut jobs: "Analysis of the proposal determined it would present hazards in dispatch to the detriment of the public safety services," the special magistrate's report stated.
•Force retirement of all departmental employees, including management, with more than 20 years' satisfactory service. "During discussions about the ramifications of the proposal ... the president of the union withdrew this proposal," the report stated.
• Fire the firehouse custodial contractor who "is doing a less than satisfactory job." Firefighters would clean their own firehouses under the proposal. "The city responded by pointing out that the contractor has a three-year binding contract with the city," eliminating the proposal from consideration, the report stated.
An impasse followed the proposals' consideration and rejection.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.