Friday, June 14, 2013

Firefighters union protests budget projections

Mayor: Numbers are conservative, ‘squishy’

Express Staff Writer

    Local 4758, Ketchum’s full-time firefighters union, has protested budget projections that the city has presented concerning additional costs it may incur in its fiscal 2014 budget due to a recently approved contract between the city and the union.
    During a City Council meeting Monday, Mayor Randy Hall said an additional $101,000 will be appropriated mainly for benefits and wages for union members in the fiscal 2014 budget. In fiscal 2013, the city appropriated about $1.98 million in expenses for fire and ambulance services. Of that, about $1.71 million was budgeted for “personal services” including salaries, paid on-call wages, benefits and overtime.
    On Wednesday, June 5, three union officials met with Fire Chief Mike Elle and Assistant Fire Chief Robbie Englehart. The union officers claimed the $101,000 figure is significantly higher than the contract will actually cost the city.
    In an interview, union Vice President Lara McLean (a lieutenant firefighter and medic) said “there were line items that were attributed to us that have nothing to do with us.”
    As an example, she pointed to an expense item for a retirement fund for Englehart.
    “The preliminary budget numbers presented by Mayor Hall and [City] Administrator [Gary] Marks are highly inaccurate and incredibly misleading,” union President John Rathfon said in an email statement Thursday. “The [union] members are disappointed that Mayor Hall’s remarks directly attack the good will that the firefighters have been working very hard to rebuild between the union and the city. It is also unfair and of disservice to our fellow city employees and the public to provide information that is neither true nor factual.”
    City Attorney Stephanie Bonney said in an interview in February, shortly after both parties approved the contract, that pay for union members would “remain about the same.”
    Hall said in an interview that he and Marks tend to be conservative when projecting costs, since that way the city is sure to have enough money to pay them. He called the numbers “squishy” this early in the budget process.
    McLean declined to say how much additional money the union thinks the city should be budgeting due to the new contract. She did say that the only wage change under the contract is a $1.25 per hour increase in overtime pay, and only for paramedics.
    “There’s a potential that we could get more overtime [if there’s a large fire or another increased need for emergency services], but just a potential,” she said. “Maybe that’s why Randy said the numbers are squishy.”
    Hall said he anticipates that the number will go down in the final budget, but said the city does not yet have a new estimate.
    “We’re not trying to upset the Fire Department,” he said. “There is a lot of guesswork trying to put together the Fire Department budget with the new union contract. We want to make sure they have the resources to do the great job they do.”
    The City Council is not expected to approve the final fiscal 2014 budget until September. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
    “The firefighters do really good work,” Hall said. “I’m very proud of them. I wouldn’t be mayor without my five years of experience on the [Ketchum Fire] Department. These guys, I’ve worked with them, they’ve taught me so much about leadership and being a good community servant. They are extraordinary at their job.”
    Hall worked previously as a paid on-call paramedic with the department and currently works as an emergency room paramedic at St. Luke’s Wood River.

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