AVON PARK - Union members who work to save lives, prevent fires and put their lives on the line daily got an increased pay rate and the City of Avon Park's pension liability should decrease.
A union contract between the city and The International Association of Fire Fighters' Avon Park Professional Firefighters Local 3132 was unanimously approved at the Avon Park City Council meeting Monday.
The contract has areas of substantial change, said City Manager Julian Deleon. Among them, he said the city wanted concessions over pension benefits.
The firefighters union agreed to a 2 percent pension vesting benefit multiplier versus 3.16 percent for new hires. A multiplier is the pension formula factor that determines the size of the lifetime annuity a pensioner receives, usually expressed as a percentage of final compensation times years of service.
The agreement will allow the city to keep state insurance proceeds, and the city's pension liability in terms of pensions should decrease in the future.
In addition, probation for new hires was extended from six to 12 months and automatic step pay increases over seven-year steps, which take eight years to reach, were enacted.
The contract was approved 4-0; Councilwoman Brenda Giles was not present.
Deleon said he was glad to see the collective bargaining agreement officially reached. The council approved a five-year agreement, which addressed long-term concerns over pension payments.
The annual city pension liability for the 2014 budget is $344,000 with a budgeted payroll of $734,000. This means the pension contribution for 2014 was about 46 percent of the budgeted payroll. Deleon said the pension's funding sources are either investment gains or losses from the city's general fund, insurance proceeds and fixed employee contributions.
"We compromised with the union. I am pleased that we reached a compromise with the union, and avoided going through impasse," he said. "The pension changes will not yield immediate savings to the city, but rather over the next decade, through normal employee attrition, the city's future financial exposure should be gradually decreased. This is an investment in the future to ensure that we have a sustainable and affordable pension system for our employees and tax payers."
Before the vote to approve the contract, Councilman Parke Sutherland, who made the motion for approval, congratulated the city and the union for coming to the agreement.
Jason Lister, Avon Park Fire Department public safety director, said the contract approval was a long time coming.
"It was a great effort between the city and fire department union. I think concessions were made on both sides but I think we have a contract that both sides can live with," he said, shortly after the meeting.
In other council action Monday:
The council voted 3-1 to increase Deleon's annual contract by $10,000. According to city payroll, he is currently making an annual salary of $93,000 working with a staff of 49 employees in a city of 10,100 people. The raise comes after high marks from four council members on a work evaluation of Deleon for which he got three 90 percentile and one 80 percentile grade. Councilmen Garrett Anderson did not turn in an evaluation and has claimed ethics violations by Deleon and filed a complaint with State of Florida Commission on Ethics March 8, 2013. He voted against the raise citing a recent history of litigations involving the city.
"I can't see rewarding someone with more litigations anyone in any city that I know of," he said during the meeting, "I would say we've made a lot of good decisions. But there are ways to cause confrontations and ways to get around them."
Deleon said he appreciated the fiscal acknowledgement of his work despite Anderson's concerns.
"I did not request any pay increase, but I certainly appreciate the consideration granted by the City Council. With regards to Mr. Anderson's comments, I expected nothing less out of Anderson," he said. "Councilman Anderson's comments did not surprise me any. He has repeatedly taken cheap shots. He did not offer anything new, other than his usual recycled script over lawsuits. When it comes to lawsuits, we have prevailed on all charges and complaints."
Regarding further annexation, the city approved 4-0 annexing 3.5 acres at 2450 U.S. 27 S. just west of Lake Glenada and the highway, owned by the Florida State Firemen's Association.
Another 19.1 acres owned by the city at 2500 U.S. 27 South was annexed and is just south of the Firemen's Association site.
A vote on two other proposed annexations were postponed due to printed address errors of "US-27 South" on the address instead of "US-27 North." Those annexations will be rescheduled within the next two meetings.
Council voted 4-0 to move forward with the idea of soliciting city residents for a citizens' code enforcement board. During citizen's participation, 40-year Avon Park Lake Avenue resident Charles Devlin suggested the council streamline the process with which they issue code violations and look into forming a code enforcement board made up of residents.
Devlin suggested a transition to a code enforcement board instead of using a special magistrate. The council directed staff to research if there was interest in getting citizens to serve and at least seven would be needed to pursue a board.
"I'd like to see interest to establish a board. The initial issue is we need seven members plus alternates. Can we generate that kind of interest?" asked Anderson, who made the motion.