Solana Beach council approves new firefighters contract

The city of Solana Beach has reached agreement on a new, two-year contract with its firefighters union, which provides increases in salaries and benefits, but also calls for some of the city's firefighters to pay a larger share of pension costs.

The City Council unanimously approved the agreement at its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 25. The Solana Beach Firefighters Association, which represents the city's 18 firefighters, had previously approved the agreement, said Dan King, assistant city manager.

According to a staff report, negotiations on the new contract began in March 2016. The agreement runs from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018. However, the salary increase contained in the first year of the contract is not retroactive, but instead was set to take effect on Friday, Jan. 27.

Under the new contract, firefighters will receive a 1.5 percent salary increase for the first year, and a 4.5 percent increase for the second year, which begins July 1 of this year.

Firefighters hired before 2013 will pick up 3 percent of the city's current pension contribution, which, along with their current 9 percent contribution, will bring their total pension contribution to 12 percent, King said. Firefighters hired after Jan. 1, 2013 are already paying a higher percentage of their pension costs, King said.

At Wednesday's council meeting, City Manager Gregory Wade said one of the city's goals for the contract negotiation was to increase firefighters' pension contributions, which he called a "noteworthy achievement." 

Other provisions of the contract include a 15 percent increase in health benefits over the two years, a one percent increase toward retiree health benefits, and a $500 "stipend" for all city firefighters covered by the agreement.

After the second increase in health benefits, which will occur on July 1, firefighters will receive $1,231.74 per month, which they can spend on health insurance for themselves and their families, King said.

The department has four classifications for firefighters covered by the agreement: firefighter/paramedic, fire engineer, fire captain and shift captain. According to a salary schedule provided by the city, in the second year of the contract, a firefighter/paramedic at the first of five salary steps will earn $71,581 per year, while a shift captain at the top salary step will earn $105,518.

The agreement does not cover the management positions of battalion chief, deputy chief and fire chief.

Wade said a salary comparison conducted by the city found that in the first year of the agreement, Solana Beach firefighters will rank in the area of ninth through 11th of the county's 18 fire departments in terms of salary. Their position will jump to fifth in the second year of the contract, Wade said, but that ranking does not take into account raises granted to firefighters at other agencies.

The new firefighters contract will cost the city $35,500 more than the previous contract in its first year, and an additional $115,600 in the second year, according to the city staff report. The increased costs will be included in the city budget for 2017-2018, which the council will receive in May.

Council members thanked city negotiators and firefighter representatives for reaching the new agreement.

"We're doing a pretty good job at targeting the middle of the range and compensating the firefighters fairly, relative to their peers in the county," said Councilman David Zito.

"We do appreciate what they do, they have a hard job" said Mayor Mike Nichols of the city's firefighters. "Public safety is a priority for this council."

Zito said the council has tried to strike a balance between reasonably compensating firefighters while guarding the public's purse strings.

"We're trying to treat our employees well while also being responsible with our finances," he said.

Solana Beach partners with Del Mar and Encinitas on management services, with one fire chief overseeing all three departments. The three agencies also sharing other management positions in an effort to save money on overhead. The new firefighter contract approved by the Solana Beach council, however, only covers firefighters in Solana Beach.

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