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Beach fire fighters to suffer through pay matrix

July 11, 2012
BY BOB PETCHER, , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A decision on payback methodology from money due by Fort Myers Beach Fire District 3 employees has been made. The recapture process will be reflected next Tuesday, July 17.

The decision is not to the liking of the Beach fire fighters who are affected by the legislative action. Recovery paybacks for each fire fighter will need to be adjusted with one lump sum to their next check.

Although discussion stemmed from the Collective Bargaining Agreement item, the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Board of Fire Commissioners did not have to approve the action at a special meeting at Town Hall on July 3, according to Fire Board Attorney Richard Pringle.

"The calculations have been done as to both the recovery amounts and the PPL buyout, so all of those changes will be reflective July 17," he said.

Sixteen of 40 current Beach fire employees will witness $91,241 in wage and benefit adjustments and buyout of excess personal paid leave. However, the net adjustments of recovery pay cannot be spread out over several paychecks.

"My reading of Chapter 447 says that the decision that the Board made at the legislative hearing is the decision. You do not have the ability to change that decision at this time," Pringle said in response to the fire board's inquiry on June 19 about its authority regarding payback adjustments during a specific time period.

"You could not make changes earlier on May 1, because you did not know if the assembled contract would be ratified. Now that you know the assembled contract was not ratified, you don't have the ability to modify that."

At the June 19 board meeting, fire board members found out that IAFF Local 1826 rejected the ratification of the District 3 Union CBA the weekend prior. That day (June 19) was established as the first effective day of the pay matrix, one of the primary proposed impasse articles along with paid personal leave, holidays, insurance, work schedules/hours of duty and overtime.

The articles imposed through the impasse process at the legislative hearing went to effect May 1, but couldn't start due to the ratification process.

At the June 19 meeting, Pringle was asked as to whether the fire board had the authority to spread out the time period of recovery pay over several paychecks. He requested time to look into the matter and discuss particulars with Labor Attorney Nikhil Joshi, management's representative. He then discussed the recovery method and the paid personal leave buyout with Beach Fire Financial Director Jane Thompson.

"There are two things that are set to occur July 17. One is buyout of PPL hours that has accumulated above that new cap," said Pringle. "Jane has already calculated the recovery amounts and implementation would be July 17."

Commissioner Carol Morris asked legal opinion about giving affected fire personnel bonuses to balance out recaptured monies. The fire board has no unilateral authority to that effect.

"To change the pay, bonus structure or any aspect of that would require good faith negotiating of an amendment to that agreement," said Pringle.

Commissioner David Broward called the union's non-ratification agreement a "punishment on themselves" due to a loss of money.

"There was a voluntary decision made. If they didn't ratify, monetary items take place on the date of the hearing. That's a statement to me that they wanted those items to take place on May 1," he said.

During public input, Capt. Ivan Bestrom stated that was not the union's intention during the "good faith" negotiations.

"Minus the imposed articles, we gave up benefits to probably 90 percent of the TA (tentatively agreed) articles. We were hoping that the bigger stuff would not be such a big impact, which it was," he said. "In the end, we had a group that sat there and said that integrity is worth a lot more than money."

Three other agenda items were discussed at the special meeting: personnel staffing; approval of accounting policy; and special event fees.

The issue of personnel staffing was tabled until a future workshop so that Thompson can analyze the hard numbers pertaining to the subject.

"In my report coming out with the (meeting) packet, you will have information as to how the numbers shake up compared to last year," she said.

The approval of Accounting Policy was also tabled. The Beach Fire's outdated policy and manual needs refreshing and rewriting.

The three attending fire board members then unanimously approved to hold a workshop to review a draft resolution for approval consideration on Special Event Fees. Pringle stated he would prepare a proposed document that would have language to officially allow Beach taxpayers or nonprofit groups to submit fee waivers by written request.

The District, which reviews Town-issued special event permits, charges a minimal $35 fee to have fire personnel staffing at various special events on the island.

The Board meets again Tuesday, July 17, at 7 p.m. At that meeting, the Fire District's budgetary process will begin with the expected setting of the TRIM rate for fiscal year 2012-13.



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