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Council OKs firefighters’ plan to ward off layoffs

Tue., Sept. 22, 2009

City will help cover health care for those who retire early

The Spokane Fire Department will avoid layoffs thanks to an early retirement plan approved unanimously Monday by the Spokane City Council.

Council members praised the Spokane Firefighters Union for what they called a “creative” solution to erase the 2010 deficit in the Fire Department’s budget without reducing employee compensation.

Under the deal, the city will compensate firefighters who retire early to help cover medical expenses for up to eight years until they qualify for Medicare.

The agreement allows 20 firefighters to retire by the end of the year and be eligible for the new benefit. An additional 10 can retire April 1.

After that, another 10 could apply annually, at least through 2011. Retiring employees hired before Oct. 1, 1977, will receive payments of $300 a month, until they’re eligible for Medicare, for up to five years. Those hired later will receive $500 a month until they’re eligible, for up to eight years.

The city is expected to save money under the plan because a starting firefighter makes about $44,000 in his or her first year, while firefighters on the job for 25 years earn about $79,000.

Councilman Bob Apple said he’s uncertain the proposal will result in long-term savings because firefighters’ largest raises occur early in their tenure. Firefighters earn about $72,000 by their fourth year.

City Budget Director Tim Dunivant noted that besides salary savings, the city hopes to reduce overtime pay because younger firefighters have less vacation time and often use less sick time.

“The idea is to keep a fresh flow of new faces coming into the department,” he said.

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