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Slow burn


The Oklahoma City Council and firefighters’ union agree to a contract, just as planning for next fiscal year’s contract begins.

Clifton Adcock March 9th, 2011

Eight months into the fiscal year, the Oklahoma City Council approved at its March 1 meeting a long-negotiated contract with the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Similar to the local Fraternal Order of Police contract approved in December, it keeps in place most provisions from the previous year’s contract. However, it increases the city’s insurance contribution from $9,500 to $10,540 per employee participating in IAFF’s health and welfare benefits plans.

The cost of the contract, which expires June 30, is approximately $82.8 million. That’s an increase of a little more than $1 million from last year’s contract, which is largely a result of the insurance contribution increase, as well as retirement and overtime costs.

The FOP contract approved in December was about $1.3 million more than the previous year, and totaled around $96 million.

City Manager Jim Couch said the city will retroactively pay the increased contribution to the firefighter’s insurance plan. That increase brings the firefighters in line with what the city contributes to other city employees’ health insurance plans.

Couch told the council that it is not likely the increase would significantly impact the city’s budget.

Couch and council members cautioned, however, about increasing expenditures until more data about the city’s sales tax growth comes in.

“I’m very appreciative of the firefighters and the city being able to get together on this, and I support this 100 percent,” said Councilman Larry McAtee, noting that the percentage increase of the city’s contribution to firefighters’ health care was larger than the city’s sales tax revenue growth.

“We still have some budget challenges ahead. If we want to keep the Standard & Poor’s rating, we can’t just go off the deep end. We have to be very alert.”

Couch said sales tax revenue is up about $1.7 million from last year, but stressed caution in increasing spending since the year-to-date growth is only about 1.6 percent.

“We’re in a much better situation than we were last year, but we’re still only a little over a percent and a half over what we were two years ago,” Couch said.

Mike Kelley, secretary and treasurer of the local IAFF, said the union was pleased to have a contract in place after negotiating for about a year.

Because the city was looking at lower tax revenue, it was initially asking for more concessions from the union. As the year progressed, tax revenue began to recover.

“Starting negotiations last year, the budget outlook was not favorable,” Kelley said. “Where we started from and where we got to is significant.”

The local IAFF and FOP chapters campaigned against the $777 million MAPS 3 proposal in 2009, stating the money would be better used to bolster public safety, and passage of the proposal would have an adverse impact on police and fire staffing levels.

In December, SoonerPoll.

com conducted a poll sponsored by Oklahoma Gazette that showed a plurality of those surveyed, around 44 percent, said they did not think the MAPS 3 program had a negative impact on public safety. Thirty-one percent of respondents believed it did have a negative impact.

 
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