Council ratifies revisions to Las Vegas firefighters contract

Las Vegas Fire Department workers would continue to receive smaller pay raises and reduced employer contributions to their health fund under contract revisions approved Wednesday by the City Council.

The council voted 4-0 to ratify changes to the second half of a two-year contract that will save the city about $4 million, about 3.8 percent of the department's total annual budget. Firefighters are expected to vote on the proposal Wednesday evening and tonight .

The contract covers about 600 members of IAFF Local 1285, which includes firefighters and paramedics. The $4 million in savings touted in the revised deal falls short of the $6 million city officials wanted to cut from the budget but should let the department stay on budget without reducing service.

Most of the savings in the deal are continuations of previous concessions made in the past three years that helped the department reduce its total annual operating budget from about $117 million to $104 million.

Union President Dean Fletcher said the sustained savings come even as the department this year has answered about 4,200 more calls for service than it had by this time last year, an increase of about 6.4 percent.

"All city employees are working harder with less, certainly every member in our unit," said Fletcher, who expects IAFF members to approve the revisions.

Fire Chief Mike Myers said sick leave restrictions and higher expectations take a toll on firefighters, particularly in the city's busiest station.

"There is a sick leave issue because they're tired; there is a high divorce rate in that station because they are stressed," Myers said.

Terms of the agreement include a continued reduction in the city's share of health insurance payments from $450 to $360 per employee, per pay period, which saves taxpayers an estimated $1.4 million.

The second-biggest item is $900,000 in savings by continuing the elimination of uniform allowances, followed by $520,000 by extending the period firefighters are ineligible for overtime following a sick day from three to eight days.

The deal also includes continued reductions in step pay increases worth $450,000 and boosts the number of "rovers" on duty, a reference to firefighters who are available to cover for people who are sick and on vacation without incurring overtime, which would save $250,000.

Sustained elimination of "documentation pay" for paramedics will save about $450,000.

"I think we have a very fair and reasonable deal to present," City Manager Betsy Fretwell told the council before the vote.

Fletcher said the agreement helps make it possible for the department to bring on about 15 new hires at a starting wage of $16.07 an hour, 5 percent lower than what entry-level firefighters made previously. The hourly rate doesn't include overtime.

A city study of employee pay released in 2010 showed the average Las Vegas firefighter makes $68,609 annually, which was about 7 percent higher than the average rate for comparable cities in California, Washington, Texas, Oregon and Colorado.

The same study showed trainees made an average of $43,115, about 12 percent above average; firefighter paramedics earned an average of $83,086, about 4 percent above average; and deputy fire marshals averaged $110,166, which was in line with other departments surveyed.

In addition to the lower pay scale for newcomers, which had been agreed to before the current contract, firefighters now earn step pay increases at half the rate they were before the budget cuts of recent years.

The agreement the council ratified will go into effect for the 2012-13 fiscal year if union members vote to approve it.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ or 702-229-6435.