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Negotiations heat up

6/18/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

The city of Hays and the firefighters union are sparring over salary negotiations for 2015, and the consequences might be felt for years to come.

The impasse has prompted city staff to request federal meditation from the Public Employee Relations Board. The state will pay for the mediation.

The disagreement with the International Association of Fire Fighters equals a cost gap of $29,500 in 2015, said Paul Briseno, Hays assistant city manager. The figure could climb if the city does not win with its position.

City staff offered a 2-percent bonus based on accruement just for 2015, but the union countered with a 5-percent raise for firefighters and 7-percent for fire lieutenants. The union also wants to raise the two positions' earning potential by 5 percent and 15 percent.

Sales tax revenue from the general fund, which primarily funds salaries, is projected to decrease 2 percent this year. No merit or cost of living adjustment is traditionally given after a year with negative sales tax, according to city staff.

"The city's position is that this type of salary increase is unsustainable at this time given the negative sales tax," Briseno said. "Also, it's not justified."

Hays firefighters have received a pay increase every year since 1989, except for 2011 because sales tax revenues were negative in 2010.

According to the law, the employees cannot go on strike. The process includes a mediator, fact-finder and a decision by the Hays City Commission.

Two other unions, Service Employees International Union and the Fraternal Order of Police, tentatively have agreed to the 2-percent bonus for 2015. All non-union city employees would receive the same boost.

The 2-percent bonus for all general-fund employees in 2015 equals approximately $130,000 to $140,000.

The city's budgeting practices have provided a cushion for the one-year bonus. Staff wants to see if sales tax revenue recovers next year before allocating funds for the "ongoing expense" of pay increases, Briseno said.

"I want to make sure that people understand that we appreciate the firefighters' service and dedication to this community and the organization, as we do with all our employees," he said. "However, at this time, the city's position is to ensure that we are living within our local economy and able to continue current levels of operation for our citizens for the foreseeable future."

Regarding whether a raise for firefighters would lead to a raise for other employees, Briseno said the city tries to be fair in wage negotiations.

"Historically in the past, the city has tried to treat all its employees, regardless of what union they were in or non-union, tried to treat them fair and equitable when it comes to any type of salary increase," he said.

Firefighters were asked to research the pay issue and look at peer cities, but nothing has been presented, Briseno said.

The Hays Fire Department referred questions to Briseno, and the union's media representative did not return comment.