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Commission to decide fire contract on Monday

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

When Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock  said the Town Commission supported the proposed Fire Department contract he added, “Anything can happen when it comes to a vote.”

That vote will be held this coming Monday, June 6 at 7 p.m. at the regular commission meeting and according to Commissioner Irwin Pastor, could determine the town’s commitment to providing the highest level of service in what he says is the most important function of town government.

“I do not want to compromise on Fire and EMS services and our taxpayers would not want us to do that. We have not been competitive and are not competitive and if voters had all the information, they would support this contract as well as the high level of service that is in place on Longboat Key,” said Pastor.

At the heart of the new contract that the town will vote on is the provision of the town paying the majority of the Firefighters’ pension costs with a concession of an 11% across the board pay cut.

The proposed contract, which a majority of the commissioners supported in executive sessions and negotiations, removes the cap that has been in place in the current contract that says the town will pay no more than 13% no matter what the state controlled pension fund requires.

In essence, the liability for all pension cost increases is now on the employees and the new contract shifts that back to the town, which is the norm for every other municipality and department statewide.

When the town capped its exposure to pension increases three years ago, many of the commissioners said it would be the future trend and the town was acting fiscally responsible. But since that time, no other community has approached pensions and in the competitive market for paramedics and firefighters, the town has experienced difficulty retaining employees since every other department pays the pension contribution.

The town has spent over the past year nearly $100,000 according to staff training new firefighters and helping them achieve certification only to have them transfer to Sarasota County and other departments. Right now, the employees are paying more than 14 percent of their salary into the Florida Retirement System Pension and the norm in every other department is the state mandated employee contribution of 3 percent.

Town Manager Dave Bullock said the contract that has been negotiated and will be voted on is “Not even close” to being lavish on the side of the firefighters.

Part of why the town sought to cap its exposure is it had accrued an unfunded liability in the town run pension fund following years of making assumptions in investment returns that never materialized and in its failure to fully fund the pension costs. The commission three years ago froze the town run plan and that plan is no longer accruing any new liability and is being paid down out of the town budget. The plan the firefighters are currently in, the FRS pension, is paid annually by the town when the state determines what the contribution level is required. In that sense, the town can never again build up an unfunded pension liability or create a debt that taxpayers will have to shoulder as it had in the past. What is changing is the shift from the employee paying the majority of the pension cost to the employer, which according to town staff, the Fire Chief and the commissioners who support the new contract say must happen to stay competitive and attract firefighters in a market where paramedics are in demand.

Longboat Key exceeds the county in its level of service currently and historically in that each firefighter employee is also a certified paramedic with far more training than simply an EMT. The reason the town maintains this level of service is because more than 90 percent of the calls are for medical treatment and the demographic and average age of Longboaters demands the level of care that has been provided.

“I have owned and visited on Longboat Key since 2001, and I can speak for my friends, my neighbors and myself: the most important thing when we came to Longboat Key is health and safety and our service is second to none. It is something we cannot compromise and all of the information shows we are not competitive and the way we have a cap on the pension has proven to be a tremendous disadvantage to retaining employees and running the department. I believe this will be supported at the meeting on Monday and we can move forward with an even stronger public safety department,” said Pastor.

The new contract proposes to reinstate pay steps which have not been awarded since 2009.

For residents interested in the issue, the contract will be voted on at the Monday, June 6 regular commission meeting at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

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5 Responses for “Commission to decide fire contract on Monday”

  1. I would recommend the following compromise:
    Cap LBK pension contribution at 7%
    Cut employee pay reduction to only $5,500
    Limit one paramedic per vehicle plus an EMT, maybe no Paramedic attending for hospital delivery, just EMT, unless warranted

  2. Tom Batchelor says:

    Tough Love, I checked out your Sandy Springs, Georgia citation and you’re incorrect. The city privatized it’s administrative and 9-1-1 center but the police and fire are city provided (traditional) because of a variety of factors. Privatizing administrative and paperwork functions are certainly an option with any city, however, it’s very difficult if not impossible to find a privatized public safety model that actually worked. The problem in private EMS, for example, is that the company cannot provide the same level of service for less money, because they have to build a profit margin into the cost. Public enterprises operate on a zero based budget system generally, without any additional funding for profit. The unit hour costs for an Advanced Life Support Paramedic unit, are the same in a given location whether public or private employees are staffing them. In the private model, though, they supplement income by performing non-emergency transports (to and from facilities) because there is no money in 9-1-1 responses. This means, that unit is not available for a 9-1-1 call while they’re taking Patient “A” from a convalescent center to their doctors appointment. That’s the bread and butter of the private EMS provider. Typically, many folks who use the service for 9-1-1 responses are not insured or under insured and why many private services wish to do only non-emergency work. Of course, on Longboat, that’s likely not to be the case, but the call volume isn’t there for a private service to make a profit, without doing one of three things — or all — which are, cut the number of units or cut the pay for employees and/or staff with only one paramedic instead of two. These would represent a substantive reduction in the level of service as it is right now on Longboat Key. And for the fire side, would you like a private entity billing condo associations or homeowners for every false alarm or fire call? What about when a homeowner, uneducated in fire detection technology, calls for service because their smoke detector battery is low and it’s chirping? Would you want to be billed for that? Because they’d have to. That would be the only way to recoup costs for a private fire provider. A certain level of service costs what it is, period. Here’s an extremist option: If the taxpayers of Longboat want to really save money, why not just eliminate all public safety out there? No fire, no EMS, no police. It would be known and promulgated clearly to residents and visitors that when you cross that Town line, you’re on your own. Drive yourself to the hospital. Put out your own fire. Do your own fire safety inspections. Respond to your own problems during a hurricane or tropical storm. Why not? If people want to be extremists about public safety, why not go all the way. But seriously, that’s not going to happen because it is incumbent upon any government to provide a safe as possible atmosphere and with the average age of 68, as cited in Steve Reid’s other column, I doubt you’d get much traction on doing any reduction to the current level of service. It costs what it costs and I can tell you, Longboat runs its public services very efficiently, there are no 40 hour staff for fire inspections, no training officer, everything is done by shift personnel who attain the proper certifications/licences. So in summary, I’d recommend you do a bit more research before you cite a city that does not have a private entity fire-rescue or police department. Because Sandy Springs, Georgia, has neither. And by the way, the Georgia State Constitution, not the unions or anything else, specifies that police and fire service must be provided by the public sector. So again, your example is bunk.

  3. Jeff Goss says:

    I am glad that I am a RETIRED LBK Firefighter. The town wanted all employees to be in the top 25% of compensation. Has any resident had to pay 14% of there pay towards there retirement. One way for the town to save some money, start hiring some simple EMT’s, yes it is nice to have all Paramedics, but a lot of times you only need 1 paramedic on a call, and you never need a paramedic to drive to the hospital. This is from a former EMT OF THE YEAR.

  4. Tough Love says:

    The town will commit financial suicide if it gives in to the insatiable greed of it’s Public Sector workers … particularly Safety.

    It should NOT agree to remove the current contribution cap. Other towns/Cities WILL eventually come over as the CLEARLY unaffordable cost of current pension formulas/provision become more and more untenable.

    And if that doesn’t happen in due course, a FAR FAR better option is to OUTSOURCE all Fire services to a PRIVATE firm. No “employees” …. mean no pensions and no retiree healthcare costs.

    Think it can’t be done ? Look in to the HUGE success in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

  5. Mrs LKFR Firefighter says:

    Thank you for the thorough and factual account of the fire contract situation to date. Despite realizing a pay reductions, higher taxes, and inequitable treatment by the Town they serve, the LKFR employees who haven’t left for other departments have remained committed to their department and the Longboat Key community. This new contract is a compromise that will provide firefighter-paramedics with some confidence that they are valued public servants who are worthy of their first modest raise in more than three years. (Notably, the new contract ensures the Town is no longer violating state law pertaining to employee and employer FRS contributions while also saving the Town money in “fringe benefit” expenses.)

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