Fire union contract changes approved

COSTA MESA — The City Council has approved amendments to the firefighters' employee contract, which will save more than $600,000 over 12 months.

The Costa Mesa Firefighters Assn. did not have to re-open its contract, but the firefighters did so in good faith to help the city close its budget deficit, said union President Tim Vasin.

"I think the gracious thing to do is to say, 'Thank you,' and also to obviously, for the taxpayers and for the rest of the city, obviously take what is being offered," said former Mayor Sandy Genis. "But I don't think it's either gracious or in the best interest of the city as a whole to try to wring the last drop out of anybody who's coming forward voluntarily."

The firefighters agreed to contribute an additional 5% into their pensions, which means the city will pay 3% of the 9% that goes into firefighter retirement accounts. The contributions will take effect Oct. 24 and will continue for a year for a $485,000 savings.

The amendment also suspended a salary increase scheduled to take effect in September. The association will also pay for an analysis that will compare the cost of running the department to that of having the Orange County Fire Authority provide services to the city. Costa Mesa is not obligated to enter into a contract with the Fire Authority once the analysis is complete, but if it does, Costa Mesa will pay the association for half of the costs to complete the analysis.

Mayor Allan Mansoor and Councilman Eric Bever voted against the amendments during Tuesday's council meeting.

"I appreciate that the firefighters association has come to the city with their intent to help out because they recognize that we are in pretty dire straits," but it wasn't enough, Bever said.

"If we do the math, we're not quite getting there."

He suggested that about $1.25 million of the equipment funds be re-allocated to make up the difference.

Vasin told Bever that this isn't the first time the firefighters have worked with the city to help close its budget deficit.

Last year, the firefighters agreed to take salary and benefit cuts that amounted to about $1.2 million, he said.

"When you make a comment regarding, 'I think we should try something further or try to further negotiate with the employee group as far as fire is concerned,' there may not be that option," Vasin said. "That's not a threat, but I think the reality is we've come in good faith to the city under no obligation, and we can very easily take our toys and go home. We don't want to do that and I don't think that's in the best interest of the city. But we feel we've taken the necessary steps to contribute our portion and help the city with the economic issues."

Bever's suggestions that more should be offered by the firefighters started a heated exchange between him, Mansoor, and Councilwomen Katrina Foley and Wendy Leece. It escalated when Bever said the firefighters union has been more responsive to the city's needs than the other unions.

"I do appreciate that fire is here and that they are talking to us," Bever said. "I think they are being more proactive than other groups in that regard."

Mansoor and Foley said they heard Bever say the rest of the employee groups weren't negotiating with the city.

"I know what I heard," Mansoor said. "I know you were not at some of the meetings. Maybe that's why you didn't know that we were talking with the other groups. But we have been talking to the other groups; I just want to make that very clear."

Bever said he was misunderstood.

Mansoor then voted against the deal. He could not be reached for an explanation about his vote on Wednesday.

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