Board rejects firefighters contract

FLINT TWP. — A proposed firefighters contract reached after lengthy mediation went up in flames at the township board meeting Monday night.

A tentative agreement with the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1425, was rejected in a 3-3 vote with Supervisor Karyn Miller, Clerk Kim Courts and Trustee George Menoutes voting in its favor and trustees Frank Kasle, Belenda Parker and Barb Vert voting against it. Treasurer Sandra Wright was absent.

Township firefighters have been without a contact since December 31, 2010. The proposed agreement was approved by the union and would have been retroactive one year and good through Dec. 2013.

It was hammered out by a mediator during 14 hours of negotiations last month, Miller said.

Kasle announced before the vote that he would be opposing the contract because it costs too much money in the face of a dismal economic forecast. Kasle praised the fire department but said the township needs to draw the line on expenses.

“I believe that the township supervisor and her negotiating committee have missed an opportunity to substantially reduce the operating cost of our fire department,” Kasle said.

He cited a projected $800,000 deficit this year of township expens- es over revenues, a $1.6 million deficit in 2013 and a $2.2 million shortfall in 2014.

“By that time our surplus is long gone and we are broke,’’ Kasle said. “So we have to start doing something now to control our costs.’’

He also cited figures from the controllers office that the average wage and benefits for a full-time firefighter for 2012 is $119,000 per person, not including overtime, compared to averages costs of $80,000 for patrol officers and $106,000 for command officers in the police department.

“It is not that I am trying to pick on the fire department,’’ Kasle said. “In my opinion this contract is too expensive and we need to get a handle on that and not burden our taxpayers with this kind of agreement. There should be more savings negotiated.”

Supervisor Miller pointed out that the agreement included a zero wage increase dating back to 2009. It also added employee contributions to health care costs.

As a point of clarification, she said the firefighters higher average wages and benefits was due to an error made by township administrators in the 1980s when no retirement funds were set aside for the fire department. It also was noted that firefighters work about 600 hours more per year than employees who work a 40-hour week.

Miller was unsure what will happen next. She said she had hoped to avoid arbitration where a judge unfamiliar with the township or fire department would rule on the contract.

Firefighters are the only one of the township’s six unions without a contract. One pressing reason to approve the contract was to include firefighters in a new HRA health care plan other employees now have.

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