Fayette County

Lexington government finalizes 3-year contract with firefighters union

Lexington Herald-Leader

The city and its nearly 500-member firefighters union have signed a three-year collective bargaining agreement that includes modest raises for firefighters and more money for tuition reimbursements for continuing education, city and fire union officials said Thursday.

The three-year contract will cost the city an additional $4.7 million over three years. That increase is largely to restore raises that were given up by firefighters during lean budget times.

Capt. Chris Bartley, the president of Lexington Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 526, said Thursday that the firefighters union voted 415-38 Wednesday to approve the contract.

Firefighters had agreed to a freeze in pay during the previous collective bargaining agreement, signed in 2011. The three-year agreement froze salaries for two years and required firefighters to pay more for health insurance.

Bartley said the agreement approved by the union Thursday would include an immediate $1,000 across-the-board raise for all firefighters. Firefighters who did not receive a raise in the past year will receive that raise in January, Bartley said.

"This gets us back to normal in January," Bartley said.

The firefighters contract was presented to the Urban County Council at Thursday night's council meeting. The council will probably take a final vote on the contract in December.

Bill O'Mara, the city's finance commissioner, told the council that city officials thought the firefighters had given up a lot during the 2011 negotiations to help right the city's shaky finances.

"We wanted to acknowledge the sacrifices of the firefighters," O'Mara said.

Lexington's general fund budget for the current fiscal year is $313 million. The city now pays about $60 million yearly for fire department services, including about $48 million yearly for firefighters' compensation.

For the current fiscal year, the changes to the contract will cost the city an additional $1.1 million. The city has budgeted for the increase in costs, O'Mara said.

The second year of the contract will cost the city an additional $2.2 million. The third year of the contract will cost an additional $1.4 million.

O'Mara cautioned that the number can change on a host of factors, including promotions, turnover and overall staffing numbers.

In addition, firefighters will receive more money for tuition reimbursements for continuing education. The city also has agreed to put more money into the firefighters' health insurance pool to help pay insurance costs.

The city's public safety unions had agreed to concessions during collective bargaining negotiations in 2011 and 2012 because of the city's dire finances. Now, the city is running surpluses.

"Because of some of the cuts the city has made and because of the economy, we are able to restore some of the cuts that took place," Bartley said.

Detective Jason Rothermund, president of the city's police union, said the Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge 4 will begin negotiations with the city in 2015. Its collective bargaining agreement expires in 2016.