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Town Manager, Chief praise Longboat Firefighter contract

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

The negotiating teams for the Town of Longboat Key and its firefighters agreed on Friday to a new contract that will add stability and help in recruitment according to town officials.

The contract, which was agreed upon by both Town Manager Dave Bullock for the Town and the Union Negotiating Team representatives must be ratified by a majority of the 33 firefighters and then approved by the Town Commission before it goes into effect.

There are several significant changes to the contract, which has been under negotiation since October 2015.

Primarily, the town has agreed to pay the entire pension contribution required by the Florida Retirement System minus the three percent employee mandated contribution.

Right now, the cost for each employee to be in the pension system is about 25 percent of their salary. In the contract that is being replaced, the town capped its contribution at 11 percent, leaving the employees paying the remaining 14 percent.

Under the new contract, the employees will pay no more than three percent no matter how high the contribution rate rises or how much it is lowered. That change puts the town in line with most every other member of the Florida Retirement System and will put the town firefighters in line with Sarasota County and other neighboring municipalities who are currently offering a more attractive pay and benefit package than the town has had over the past three years.

“This meets our objectives. It will provide a high level of service for citizens and position us where we want to be. Almost every other agency in the state pays the same contribution,” said Town Manger Bullock.

Bullock told Longboat Key News that unlike Sarasota County and many other districts, every firefighter and everyone on the truck who rides to an emergency on Longboat Key is a paramedic, which takes more certification and training than simply being an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).

“A paramedic is important to the Longboat Key demographic in that he or she can offer advanced life support, administer drugs, interpret heart rhythms, perform defibrillation as well as treat for stroke and heart attacks,” said Bullock.

The new contract also proposes to reinstate pay steps, which have not been awarded since 2009. The employees who did not receive steps will be brought to the level of pay they would have been over the duration of the new 3-year contract. As a concession, the firefighters will receive an 11 percent across the board pay cut.

Fire Chief Paul Dezzi said he hopes the majority of firefighters ratify the contract when they vote on it next week. Dezzi believes that it is a very important contract to retain the quality of firefighters Longboat Key has enjoyed and for future recruitment.

“Right now, the firefighters have to pay in more than 14 percent into the pension and all the other municipalities are only paying three percent. Employees are leaving and we are losing firefighters to other departments where they only have to pay the three percent. This will make us more competitive and will prevent our investment in training only to be lost when an employee leaves,” said Dezzi.

Dezzi echoed Bullock’s statement that it costs the town $8,000 – $10,000 to train and outfit a new firefighter.

While Bullock negotiated on the town’s behalf, firefighter Keith Tanner represented the employees as the Union District Vice President. Tanner retires on June 1 after 17 years serving Longboat Key and said that this is “an extremely important contract and I’m glad that we are getting this right before I retire.”

Tanner says the main advantage to the contract is that now everyone will be paying what other municipalities and districts are paying into the state pension and he says that will help in recruiting and retaining employees.

Tanner said Longboat Key is unique in that it is a small department that arrives at most of its calls in under five minutes which is extremely fast and offers personalized service.

“We try to always offer care that goes beyond the norm and we want to hire and keep people who understand this level of service and what our residents expect. We used to hire people with a minimum of five years of experience but that became impossible under the current contract. I think with the new contract we will again be competitive and go back to that practice,” said Tanner.

Tanner said the extra experience is important on Longboat Key because of the number of strokes, heart attacks and multi-system dysfunctions that are seen on the calls. He said often multiple symptoms and conditions are present and the experience is critical.

“It may be the difference between determining if wheezing is caused by COPD or a heart condition. We also have a lot of high rises and high hazard structures; its nice to have firefighters who have fought fires and worked in tall structures. Additionally, you have a long transport time to the hospital and you really want someone who knows what they are doing,” said Tanner.

Bullock told the bargaining team last week that the town commission was supportive of the contract when they went over it in their executive session, but he added that he can never guarantee the vote.

“There was no dissent, but a lot of discussion,” said Bullock.

Mechanically, for the contract to be approved, it must be ratified by the majority of the firefighters next week. Then, it will go to the town commission for a vote in the first week of June.

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2 Responses for “Town Manager, Chief praise Longboat Firefighter contract”

  1. Ross P. Alander says:

    ooops please change to……thanks

    As a Labor Arbitrator and Labor Negotiator, well done Mr. Tanner and Mr. Bullock.
    Ross P. Alander

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