Firefighters’ jobs appear safe for now
Tuesday, June 26, 2012View full version
By Michelle McNiel
World staff writer
WENATCHEE — Mayor Frank Kuntz and the firefighters’ union are closing in on a cost-cutting plan that should eliminate the need for layoffs in the department.
The fire department agreement is the last and largest piece of the mayor’s overall plan to cut city spending because of shrinking tax revenues, rising employee costs and the Town Toyota Center’s financial problems. Kuntz initially sought to trim $1.5 million a year from the budget by laying off 16 employees and having firefighters stop responding to most emergency medical calls.
Once the deal with firefighters is settled, the city will see $1.1 million in savings through six early retirement buyouts, the layoff of four museum employees and one police officer, and firefighters getting fewer paid days off and paying more for their medical insurance premiums. Firefighters will continue to run on all EMS calls, at least for now.
Although he’s still about $400,000 short of his initial goal, Kuntz said he doesn’t see the need for more cuts at least through the end of the year.
“It’s gets us way closer to where we need to be,” he added.
The tentative agreement Kuntz has reached with Wenatchee Firefighters Local 453 includes:
A reduction in health care benefits so that the city will pay 90 percent of premiums for employees and 60 percent for their families.
Firefighters working extra days that they usually get off as compensation when they work a certain number of hours in a week.
Fire Marshal Mark Yaple splitting his time between the fire department and the building/planning department, where an employee took the early retirement incentive offered by the city.
A battalion chief and a firefighter taking early retirement.
Kuntz said that altogether the plan will save the fire department more than $400,000 a year — just over half the $800,000 the mayor had originally planned to cut from the department. That original plan would have laid off eight firefighters by Aug. 1.
Kuntz said if the City Council agrees to the plan, there shouldn’t be any layoffs in the department.
“That’s been the goal all along,” he said. “We’re all trying to get to the same spot.”
The mayor conceded that his idea to have firefighters stop responding to most emergency medical calls “is going to be more of a process than I thought. So we need to keep extra guys on to still be doing that.”
Kelly Lindemann, president of Wenatchee Firefighters Local 453, said Monday afternoon that he had not yet finalized the details of the plan with the mayor.
But he said he was happy that layoffs will likely be avoided and that firefighters will still go on EMS calls.
“We’ve come a long way since we’ve started all this (negotiating),” he said. “These cuts are more acceptable than what we had been looking at (with layoffs).”
With the two retiring fire personnel, the department will reduce the number of people on duty at time from seven to six. The on-duty crew at the Maple Street station will drop to two, which means they will not be able to enter a burning building to attempt a rescue until backup arrives at the scene of a fire.
Lindemann acknowledged that the firefighters’ concessions ended up being far greater than the mayor’s initial request for all union employees to agree to reduced health care benefits. When the city’s three unions did not collectively agree to the cuts, the mayor initiated a cost-cutting plan that called for 16 layoffs.
But Lindemann said the health care cuts would have only saved the city about $500,000 a year, and more cuts would have been necessary anyway.
Michelle McNiel: 664-7152