Firefighters fire back at Joe Baird over characterization of wage negotiations

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Lt. Wayne Schasane, who has faced many a battle in 36 years as an Indian River County firefighter, intends to take on Indian River County Administrator Joe Baird at the County Commission meeting on Tuesday over comments Baird has made about the firefighters union.Over the past week, both in a video interview with VeroNews.com and in a public meeting, Baird has made the point that the firefighters are the only county employees who will be accepting raises during fiscal year 2009-2010 and stated they have been uncooperative and unwilling to negotiate. Schasane and his 220-plus fellow members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2201 have a different view of what has taken place, and the firefighters intend to defend their position at the July 21 meeting.The Indian River County firefighter has characterized the relationship with Baird over the years as “terrible” and said that has led to huge cuts to the Fire Rescue budget. Baird and Budget Director Jason Brown have asked Sheriff Deryl Loar to remove only $2 million from his $44 million budget, a 4.6 percent cut, but they have asked Fire Rescue to cut $5.4 million from its $31 million current-year budget, roughly an 18 percent reduction, even while opening the new Station 12 in Gifford. “We met with Joe and Jason (Brown) in May and they had some preliminary numbers. Then we met again in June and they had different numbers that weren’t as bad,” Schasane said. “So what Joe forgot to say was that we told them that we wanted to meet with them again when they had the real numbers and then we would talk and they said, ‘we’re done’ and walked away.”The “real numbers” he’s talking about were revenue figures that the Indian River County Tax Collector’s office was calculating regarding property values in the County. The number David Nolte comes up with has a domino effect on every aspect of County business, but especially on the budget and on the millage rate. The Emergency Services District is a dedicated fund generated by a special taxing district with its own millage rate that covers the firefighters.  The property value figured by Nolte directly affects the funds available to pay for things like their salaries, vehicles and maintenance. Schasane said he wanted to negotiate in good faith, but with the final numbers. The Property Appraiser’s most recent projections were received on July 1, which predict a 9.1 percent drop in revenue from property taxes. Initial estimates were as dire as a 12. 3 percent decrease and even up to last Monday, Brown had to supply Commissioners with corrected figures based on developments late on July 10.Commissioner Gary Wheeler agrees with Schasane that the talks should be re-opened. As former Sheriff, Wheeler has sat on the other side of the table in these types of negotiations.”If they want to come back, and if they didn’t have accurate numbers when our staff met with Wayne before, then they should come back,” Wheeler said. “I would be disappointed if our staff didn’t agree to meet with the firefighters again.”When asked about the position Baird has been taken on the firefighters, Wheeler explained, “that’s what Joe does, he’s a tough negotiator.”The raises in queston are annual increases — not cost of living raises, which the union voluntarily gave up last year in a three-year contract with no COLAs — that Indian River County firefighters receive each year for their first nine years of service. The increase amounts to 5 percent of their salaries and the total amount they will cost the County next year is $273,000. The firefighters’ $273,000 in raises is not being taken out of the general fund, but out of a $14 million suplus in the dedicated Emergency Services District fund explained above, so it does not take money away from any other County employee or department. The firefighters have also offered up more than $1 million in cost-saving measures within their own department to more than offset their raises.”They have $300,000 for new uniforms in the budget, for example,” Schasne said. “We told them we don’t need new uniforms, but they’re still in the budget.”Schasne will present this and other suggestions about the proposed Fire Rescue budget when he speaks in the public discussion session of Tuesday’s meeting. The County Commission meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Commission Chambers in Building A of the County Administration Building.

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