By Lisa Zahner
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The Indian River County Firefighters voted down a proposal to forego anniversary raises in 2009-2010 that would help offset record budget cuts, and instead the union said it will offer money-saving measures designed to equal the cost of the salary increases.During two meetings last week, the membership of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2201 voted “overwhelmingly” to reject a Memorandum of Agreement presented by the County, according to union president Lt. Wayne Schasane, a 34-year veteran of the department. The membership did direct Board members to dig into the Fire Rescue budget and approach the County with cost-saving measures to match the $273,000 in raises.
“Next week, we’ll sit down and look at the budget and try to find ways to save the taxpayers’ money,” Schasane said. “Then we’ll set up a meeting with the County and see where it goes.”Commissioner Peter O’Bryan said he’s wary of some of the line items the firefighters have suggested cutting, such as $220,000 for uniforms union members claim are unnecessary.”Some of the things they’re talking about, like the uniforms, next year we’ll be buying twice as much, and we’ll need to provide the bunker gear and apparatus. Therefore, we’ve saved it, but you have to look at these things and decide if we’re cutting it or just postponing it,” O’Bryan said. “If it’s a true savings they’re proposing, we should take a look at it.”Based on discussions during the meeting on July 28 with Human Resources Director Jim Sexton, Assistant County Administrator Mike Zito and Emergency Services Director John King, it appeared firefighters were willing to forego their raises in exchange for keeping senior Fire Prevention personnel from being demoted and sent back to the fire station.
The demotion of the three Fire Prevention inspectors would save the County about $130,000 per year, but Schasane and his union representatives expressed concern that cutting that department in half would jeopardize public safety as it would reduce the department’s ability to conduct building inspections and fire prevention programs in schools.But when the proposal came back from the County, it still provided for the demotion of the Fire Prevention staff and iinstead codified the fact that two EMS supervisors would remain on the job, as voted on by the County Commissioners during budget workshops on July 23. The County also included a clause stating that no other County employees would receive a raise during the 2009-2010 fiscal year, except in the case of a promotion.Normally an advocate for fire rescue issues, O’Bryan said it’s time for the firefighters to fall in line with other County employees and give up their raises to help offset the proposed 22 percent budget cuts — the largest in County history. The cuts are in response to a decline in property values and in state cost-sharing revenues.”In my opinion, it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Everybody else has stepped up to the plate, the Teamsters, the Sheriff and the Supervisor of elections, all the other departments.”O’Bryan said the firefighters should not be able to trade their raises for the saving of the jobs of Fire Prevention personnel.”Nobody else has the option of negotiating that way,” he said. “It all comes down to, at this point, how much money do we take out of reserves.”Currently, the $273,000 to fund 5 percent raises for firefighters with fewer than 10 years’ service, or $1,000 longevity payments for veteran firefighters, would be taken out of the $14 million reserve of the Emergency Services District and paid to firefighters in April.
Commissioners agreed to take another $62,800 (budget salary plus family medical benefits and pension) out of that reserve to hire a new firefighter-paramedic for Gifford Station 12, slated to open in October. Based on the proposed 2009-2010 budget, including a 14 percent cut in the Fire Rescue budget, reserves will be reduced by $600,000 to keep the millage rate for the EMD comparable to 2008-2009. “The Commissioners said they would re-address the inspector issue in six months to see what affect the cuts were having on inspections, so the members were of the opinion that we would let them do that,” Schasane said. “We’re at minimum staffing as it is.”