EAST LIVERPOOL - A move to increase council wages while setting aside money for hiring an additional firefighter hit a snag Monday night when three City Council members voted against suspending rules to adopt the legislation.
The issue at hand was an ordinance amending an earlier ordinance establishing automatic pay increases for council, president of council, clerk of council and the treasurer so each receives full credit under the Ohio Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) for each month served in office.
When council initially passed the legislation in 2005, it provided full credit for both retirement and health care, but the OPERS board of trustees now requires minimum salaries of $600 per month for those officials to receive retirement benefits and a minimum of $1,000 per month to receive retirement and health insurance benefits upon retirement.
At a finance committee meeting prior to Monday's council meeting, Chairman Sherrie Curtis offered figures showing that increasing the current salaries of council, president, clerk and treasurer to $600 per month would cost an additional $35,244 annually, whereas an increase to $1,000 per month for the 10 positions would mean an additional $59,503 annually.
This additional $94,747 was added to the temporary budget which was also on Monday's committee and council agendas.
"Do we want to participate in health care or just the pension program?" Curtis questioned her fellow officials.
She noted that $100,000 has been included in the budget for buyouts for two retiring firefighters next year but an additional $50,000 will probably be needed for those buyouts and that hiring a new firefighter, which had been proposed at a recent council meeting, will cost $56,000.
The committee agreed to forward to council an amended temporary tax budget providing for the $600 salaries for those specific officials and $60,000 placed in the fire fund with the intent of hiring a new firefighter.
Councilman Ray Perorazio, retired from the city fire department with 38 years service, said during both the finance and council meetings that he would like to see the department give up one of two vacation lists, which allows two firemen to be on vacation at the same time, increasing overtime costs.
"Now you're taking $400 out of my pocket (by going with the $600 instead of $1,000 monthly salary) so you can man that department. I'd like to see them give up that vacation list," Perorazio said. "There ought to be some way to go to one vacation list."
Councilman said if there are two vacation lists, the city could end up in the same predicament even if it hires a new firefighter.
Mayor Jim Swoger said he believes the vacation issue would be a contractual issue.
Perorazio voted against first reading of the legislation, which nonetheless passed, but when it came time to suspend the rules so it could be placed on third and final reading, Cunningham and Councilman Russell Dray also balked and voted no.
A two-thirds majority is required to pass as an emergency measure.
Dray gave no reason, but Cunningham said after the meeting he thinks the issue should go through more than one reading.
After the meeting, Bob Smith, president of Local 24 of the International Fire Fighters Association, said it was "kind of amazing" that Perorazio voted against the measure, saying, "He enjoyed (the benefit of two vacation lists) for 38 years, and he is getting a 100 percent raise."
Referring to Perorazio's suggestion that the department give up the existing vacation system, Smith said that was granted to the department many years ago in arbitration and, "They can't take that away from us."
He asked, "What else is there for us to give up?" saying the department has made concessions, including eliminating lieutenant positions, cuts in starting salaries, and the acceptance of part-time firefighters, even though those have never been hired.
"We have given up things in good faith to get more help and haven't got it. We've done everything they've asked us to do. I think we've given enough give and take," Smith said. "Maybe we can get the same percentage of raise (council is getting). It's kind of amazing that them getting a pay raise comes back to our staffing. This has turned into a negotiation ploy."
Smith said he will be contacting the union's labor attorney and calling a union meeting to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, the legislation will be addressed again at the Dec. 16 council meeting.