UPDATE with VIDEO: Negotiations with firefighters offer nothing new

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A meeting with County staffers and firefighter union representatives on Tuesday produced conversation that sounded promising, but offered little in the way of breaking the budget impasse between the two sides over raises.The County has offered up a draft Memorandum of Agreement to the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2201 asking the 220-plus employees to give up the step raises and longevity payments in their contract, which will cost $273,000, in exchange for preserving the jobs of two EMS supervisors that the Board of County Commissioners already put back into the budget. During Thursday’s 2009-2010 budget workshops, Commissioners voted unanimously take $62,800 out of the $14 million reserve fund of the Emergency Services District to keep two veteran supervisors in positions where they supervise 30 to 35 paramedics per 24-hour shift and directly assist with multi-casualty incidents. The $62,800 would pay for a new firemedic to be hired for Station 12, to open in Gifford in October. One of the EMS supervisors would have been demoted and sent to Station 12 as a firemedic and the other would have been demoted and shifted to a training position.The IAFF took the proposal back to its membership during a meeting Wednesday and they will hold a second meeting on Thursday evening before preparing a response to the County proposal.Union members were hoping to be able to consider a plan to keep staffing of the Fire Prevention department in tact, as the proposed budget demotes fire prevention staffers and places them back in the fire station at reduced rank and pay. Part of the justification s that the number of permits for new buildings has plummeted. Lt. Wayne Schasane, president of the Local 2201 explained to the staffers that, unlike the way this affects building inspectors, the reduction in new construction does not slash the workload of inspectors.”I don’t think people understand what they do. Say there is a new building built. There is plan review, we do that and so does the County, then say the plans are a go and the building is built, the County inspects, we inspect and it passes,” he said. “Once it passes, the County is done, but every year we go out and inspect that McDonald’s.”Restaurants with seating capacity of 100 or more are among the Priority 1 buildings required to be inspected every year. Other Priority 1 buildings checked annually are hospitals, medical facilities, nursing homes, fuel storage facilities, the jail, theaters, schools, airports, schools and hotels and motels of three floors or more.Priority 2 buildings include nursery schools, water plants, paint stores, apartments and condos, automotive repair shops, gas stations and marinas. Emergency Services Director John King said the current full complement of inspectors cannot get to all the Priority 2 buildings each year. Priority 3 buildings, which include offices, small shops, convenience stores, light industrial and mini-storage are left until everything else is finished. City and County buildings are Priority 2 items, but the meeting room where the labor negotiations took place had a fire extinguisher that had not been inspected or recharged since it was placed in the new building in 2006. This was discovered by chance when Commissioner Joe Flesher asked Inspector John Duran to demonstrate to him what gets checked during a fire inspection and Duran took the extinguisher out for show and tell.Due to the 14 percent proposed cuts to the Fire Rescue budget, education programs in schools would also be in jeopardy as those are conducted by Fire Prevention staff. “We’ve had 160 positions eliminated over the past 3 years,” said Human Resources Director Jim Sexton. “The funds are just not there to fund them. The other positions eliminated were all needed positions.”Should the County declare a state of Financial Urgency with the State of Florida, a clause in the IAFF contract could kick in to do away with the raises. But the general fund is running about a $44 million reserve and the Emergency Services District has $14 million in the bank.”Each year, money is moving forward and has created a $14 million contingency that has historically not been available for raises because it’s for a rainy day,” said fire Capt. Mark Daniels, a nearly 20-year veteran of the department and secretary and treasurer of the Local 2201. “Well, we’re in a downpour right now.”There was some discussion that, since the step raises and longevity pay would not be paid out until April 2010, that union representatives would like to see where the Emergency Services District stands cash-wise at that point.  Should the district be running in the red due to the economic downturn, a decision could then be made to forego the $273,000 in raises.”If we can find the money (in the budget), would you guys entertain it? If we can find the $273,000, do we have a deal?” Schasane said.

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