SEBRING - For the first time in more than two years, the city and the local firefighter's union have agreed to a contract.
The Sebring City Council on Tuesday ratified the contract, along with one with the Florida Police Benevolent Association.
As part of the agreement, some in those departments will receive salary adjustments based on years of experience.
The atmosphere concerning the Fire Department contract was a far cry from that of last year when the city and the union failed to agree to a contract and union leaders strongly fought proposed pension system and promotion rule changes. Union leaders bitterly objected to plans for the city to go from a pension to a 401k system for retired firefighters.
This year's contract is largely similar to the one imposed by the City Council following the end of an impasse procedure, other than the salary changes.
In addition to merit pay raises of up to 2.3 percent, the base pay for entry level firefighters will be raised and lieutenants will get adjustments.
Fire Chief Brad Batz said the cost of all that would be about $44,000, which will come out of fund balances.
The starting pay for the four new firefighters hired this year and two new ones who will be hired in the near future will be raised from $10 to $11 an hour, Batz said.
That increase will make starting salaries more comparable and competitive with other departments in Florida, he said. It will make it easier to recruit and retain new firefighters, he added.
Those who pass their one-year probation will have their salaries increase to $12 per hour, he said.
Batz said the lieutenants will get a salary adjustment so that their pay will be above that of starting salaries.
The agreement with the police union includes adjustments for some employees based on years of experience.
Police officials have said that because of years of no raises, some more experienced employees are making the same salary as those with less experience. The union contract includes salary adjustments costing about $23,000. The city has also agreed to increase salaries for lieutenants, at a total cost of about $3,000.
To pay for the increase, the Police Department has agreed not to fill one vacant police officer position during this budget year.
In addition, police officers, like other city employees, will receive up to 2.3 percent increases in their salaries, based upon merit. Since all the police officers will not receive the maximum, the department plans to use left over money for bonuses, such as awards for officer of the year or officer of the quarter.
Sebring Police Cmdr. Steve Carr said he believes the contract is good for both the employees and management. He said its been around six years since employees had a pay raise.