Solana Beach mayor responds to firefighters

In the wake concerns that firefighter staffing may be reduced in Solana Beach, as well as two anonymous letters that were made public in recent weeks, Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner responded with the following letter on Aug. 24, which each member of the council signed in agreement:

"This past week, our city manager, David Ott, was accused of endangering public safety and of spiking his own retirement. The first was alleged by the Solana Beach Firefighters Association, and the second by an “anonymous retired Solana Beach employee.”

We’d like to tell you the full story as the “two” groups who are accusing our city manager have spun tales of half-truths and complete mistruths.

A little fiscal history first, because as you’ll see, it all comes down to the almighty dollar vs the good of our community now and in the future.

Last fiscal year the city of Solana Beach was faced with a large budget deficit. To

address it, over $1million was cut from our operating budget through austerity

measures. In addition, we were the first city in the region to institute full pension reform throughout our organization for an increased savings that year.

When fully instituted, this fiscally responsible action will save us hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in each year. Its important to note that our existing and new safety and non-safety employees will still receive every good pensions at their end of their careers that they have earned.

However, in order to achieve full pension reform, last year the City Council had to “impose” a new labor agreement on our firefighters. All other employee groups came to a voluntary agreement with the city. The overall result was that all city employees would pay their full employee share of their pension cost, whether immediately like our firefighters and lifeguards (lifeguards agreed to pension reform and it was not imposed on them) or over 3 years, to be completed by July 1, 2012, as was the case with all other employee groups. A 2% pay raise was given to the lifeguards and firefighters given that they were to pay their full share the first year while other employee groups phased it in. At the same time, the City Council immediately began paying their full pension cost and no raises were given.

Currently, we are looking at a new fiscal year budget, and are once again facing a deficit. This year it is approximately $700,000—$800,000. Almost half of that amount, $380,000, is attributed to overtime pay to firefighters. Overtime is paid to any replacement firefighter when another is out on vacation, sick leave, or workman’s compensation leave.

The City Council has had concerns with firefighter overtime pay for a couple years now. Faced with recurrent budget deficits due to the national economic downturn, it was an obvious place to examine in an effort to balance our budget. City Manager Ott was given direction by the Council on June 22, 2011, to provide to us ways to reduce the deficit through reducing firefighter overtime as well as other possible actions, and present them to us at our August 24, 2011 council meeting.

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