Taxpayers’ Association takes aim at Indian River County firefighters

By Lisa ZahnerINDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The Indian River County Taxpayers’ Association, acting as self-appointed budget hawks, have been rallying members to bombard the County Commissioners with letters, calls and emails about the Fire Safety budget and the fact that the County’s 220 firefighters and firemedics are still scheduled to receive anniversary or “step”raisies and longevity bonuses totalling $273,000.In an e-mail sent out to 40 members on August 11 by Vice President Rosemarie Spytek on behalf of the Taxpayers’ Board of Directors, the organization stated the reasoning for the campaign was that, after attending budget workshops in July, “we feel that the commissioners are under a great deal of pressure from all sides and we need to assure them that we support their sometimes difficult decisions to cut spending.”The association’s main complaint is the salary for a starting firefighter, $35,000 to $37,000 depending on whether the firefighter is also a certified paramedic, is higher than the average public works or clerical employee. Firefighters contend that the training, risks and responsibilities involved exceed the average county employee and their salaries should be compared to neighboring fire departments, not to maintenance or office positions. “We feel that they should sacrifice their merit raise as so many other departments have had to furlough or lay off employees. I do not think that I need to tell you that the average taxpayer is feeling the squeeze,” reads the e-mail.The Taxpayers’ Association met with John King, director of Emergency Services, and Jason Brown, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in June to discuss their concerns. In addition to eliminating the raises, the Board is requesting members to push for two fire stations to be converted to Advanced Life Support stations to save money. This would mean using a special fire engine with medical equipment on board. However, it would also mean the loss of transport capability, which would require an ambulance to be on the scene. ALS stations require less staffing and no ambulance.The new Station 12 in Gifford, set to open in October, will be an ALS station.The County and the International Association of Firefighters Local 2201 have been working for the past month to negotiate a deal regarding staffing, equipment and other budget items that would persuade firefighters to forego their raises. Under the IAFF collective bargaining agreement, firefighters already gave up their cost of living increases for the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 budget years, but the County cannot unilaterally take away the step raises.The County made a proposal to the IAFF, which was voted down by members in early August. No further negotiating sessions have been scheduled to resolve the issue.Brown is scheduled to be present at the Sept. 9 meeting of the Taxpayers’ Association to discuss the County budget in general.

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