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June 14, 2012

Officials approve firefighter contract

Two-year deal doesn’t include raises

By SCOTT SMITH 
Tribune staff writer

— Kokomo firefighters wanted to add membership this round of contract negotiations, but had to settle for a no-layoff clause.

The Kokomo Board of Public Works & Safety approved a two-year collective bargaining agreement with Kokomo Professional Firefighters Local 396 Wednesday, a pact which included no pay raises.

City officials agreed to keep eight firefighters on staff who were in danger of being laid off when federal grant money runs out in August.

City taxpayers will take over paying those salaries, but the tradeoff for the firefighters union was another two years with no salary increases.

“We all wanted a raise, but we felt in the end we were going to better serve the citizens and better serve ourselves to keep as many firefighters working as possible,” union president Rick Daily said Wednesday.

Despite the no-layoff clause, city officials have already announced their intention to further trim the department through attrition.

Firefighters of retirement age are being offered a buyout. If a firefighter accepts the buyout, he or she will be able to retain the current employee contribution rate on their health insurance — 14 percent (or 16 percent if living outside the city).

If eligible firefighters turn down the buyout and retire later, they’ll have to pay either 20 percent (if retiring after age 55) or 30 percent.

Daily declined comment on the buyout, saying it was “totally up to the individual.”

It appears staffing was the main concern during negotiations, and both sides acknowledged that the city’s annexation of more than 12 square miles of the county was discussed.

“I presented [the city’s] own fiscal plan for annexation, the same plan they presented to the city council. It called for 10 additional firefighters,” Daily said. “Hopefully we can hire some firefighters and better protect those areas.”

The head of the city’s bargaining committee, Randy McKay, said the fiscal plan information was mentioned, but said the firefighters never put a request for 10 additional firefighters on the table.

Current staffing is 108, and city officials have said they hope to be down to 100 by the time the new contract expires. It goes into effect Jan. 1.

McKay said the fiscal plan isn’t a mandate, and said the city’s plans — which include the new Fire Station 2 on East Center Road and another fire station slated for South Dixon Road — will protect the citizens.

McKay said the city will reevaluate staffing needs after the annexation takes effect, and in time to make a decision before the two-year contract expires.

“I think we’re very satisfied with the contract,” McKay said. “We’re pleased the firefighters stepped up to assist each other and ensure the junior people on the department wouldn’t be reduced.”

• Scott Smith is a Kokomo Tribune staff writer. He may be reached at 765-454-8569 or via email at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com.

 

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