published: Thursday, May 09, 2013
City axes firefighter pensions
By SAMANTHA GHOLAR
SEBRING -- After two years of negotiations, city council members voted unanimously Tuesday evening to do away with the City of Sebring Fire Department's pension plan. The current seven non-vested employees will all be moving over a 401(a) defined contribution plan should they remain at the fire department. The eight vested employees will retain their pension plans.
The votes came after nearly two hours of discussions from the city's labor attorney, Brian Koji, Local 3210 Fire Union President Ross Edmonds, city council members and concerned members of the public.
The full details of the city and fire's negotiations were laid out for Mayor George Hensley and the council, minus Bud Whitlock, who was absent.
City officials have argued that the pension plans could easily bankrupt the city long before the last firefighter enters retirement and begins drawing on his pension.
The tense room became somewhat uncomfortable as fire union members and supporters stated their side of the issue, pleading for the council to let the current members of the fire department keep their pensions.
"We are not asking for new-hire pension," Edmonds said, adding that despite what the city was claiming, he wasn't aware of non-vested employees being dropped from the pension program in other cities.
"They sign on to become firemen and work for 10 bucks an hour because they have a pension plan waiting for them at the end," Jim Lobozzo, business owner in the city of Sebring and father to firefighter Dan Lobozzo, said.
"What you're doing is removing a portion of that compensation package without increasing the other end of it," Lobozzo said. "Negotiations usually involve give and take. There doesn't seem to be any give in these negotiations. All I see is that these benefits were available to these employees and now they are not going to be available to these employees."
Lobozzo said the city should adjust the compensation plan to balance the loss of the pension in order to attract quality firefighters.
"You're going to have guys who have one eye on doing their job and one eye on their iPad or their iPhone looking to see what else is available out there. You're going to get what you pay for," Lobozzo said. "Fiscal conservatism is great, except when it adversely affects you."
Lobozzo suggested leaving current employees under the pension plan, regardless if they are vested or not, and moving new hires to the new 401(a) plan.
Hensley -- who doesn't have a vote -- has served on the fire pension board for many years and was more vocal than usual during Tuesday's meeting. He agreed with Lobozzo and said he wasn't aware of any other municipalities removing employees who are already in the pension system.
"There's numbers and then there's, for me personally, the right thing to do. I don't think that it is fair. I don't think that the city of Sebring, the taxpayers, would think that it is the right thing to do," Hensley said.
Council member John Clark strongly disagreed.
"It is not fair to shoulder the taxpayers with an unlimited potential liability, and that's what a defined benefit plan is. It's a liability until the last person drawing out of that plan expires. We all live in the same world, we all take the same risks and that's what it is, passing risks back and forth. I've just had enough; it's a big fib and it's time we all, at least here in this little tiny community, recognize it and we want to have a plan where there is money there," Clark said.
Clark reminded everyone of what had taken place two years ago at the start of the negotiations.
At the start of the city and fire negotiations in fall 2011, city management offered the fire department, as well as the police department, the proposal of allowing all current members of the department, vested and non-vested, to retain their pension plans.
All new hires and incoming employees would have been given the defined contribution plan.
The Sebring Police Department accepted the new contract deal with no objection two years ago. Fire union members refused the proposal, which the City then took completely off the table and the union opted to continue negotiations, which led to an impasse hearing and finally to Tuesday's decision.
"Reality is every single firefighter is going to draw Social Security benefits, too. Everybody keeps glossing over this stuff. I understand the mayor's sentiments. Unfortunately for whatever reason, the union population rejected the deal that I believe in hindsight was a terrible mistake on their part," Clark said. "They rolled the dice and they lost. That's what happens in negotiations."
The city's decision for the other bone of contention in the negotiations -- the promotion process -- was to provide greater flexibility and give the fire chief more discretion and flexibility.
Items such as education, experience as a firefighter, experience with the city of Sebring, supervisory experience, work performance and disciplinary background are all points that will now be used, along with test results, to determine which firefighters would be promoted.
Edmonds and the fire union members felt that the new proposed changes do not specify well enough what educational courses and certifications would be needed for promotion and that leaving the final say of hiring and promotional process solely to Chief Brad Batz was unfair.
"We've got no problem with flexibility, but we want some type of accountability outside the chief," Edmonds said.
The council members disagreed with Edmonds and stated that Batz should have the final say on the employees that he feels are best qualified for the supervisor positions in the fire department.
(by: Had enough - 5/29/2013)
Dear Mr I'm Ignorant firefighter-How about we pull the call records and see just how much these guys are working in a day? We can even pad it with a few hours tacked on for paperwork and cleaning. Should be easy enough to do and then we can break down their hourly wage. My beef isn't so much pay/pension benefits it's the arrogant attitudes and the down right dirty way they ( the firefighters) went about this whole process. BTW WSVFD costs me $35 a year in addition to whatever additional contributions I choose to make. They also don't threaten dire consequences to my life or property if they aren't paid what's "fair". Might be time to tell your "brothers" to shut up. Public opinion is rapidly turning and not to your "brothers" benefit either.
Im ignorant (by: firefighter - 5/27/2013)
The underlying theme here is that the firefighters are paid too much. Salary and benifits included. Its a simple matter of percpetion, cost over value. I will wager that not one of the critics here can tell qualify what their civil servants do. People get paid primarily for 3 things, what they do, what they are trained to do and the liability for the above. If you do not know what they do(the services YOU demand), how often they do it and they liability they shoulder you need to keep quiet. Your ignorance is dammaging to the social welfare and painful to hear. " big numbers are scary" is not a reason to dock someones pay. I have yet to hear a single person say which services they are willing to remove because they dont want to pay for them... oh you want all the same services you just dont want to pay for them. I must not be seeing the BIG picture.
Blindman (by: Agree with the outcome - 5/15/2013)
It's because of the rules, regulations, procedures in dealing with a union that this has been drug out for so long. Like Clark said they gambled and lost. Several of them have lost my respect too based on things I"m hearing and reading elsewhere. Talk about playing dirty wow! And what's with all this not fair stuff? Who decides what's fair? Fair to who? You, me, them, the City? Someone said it right in an earlier posting a bunch of spoiled children! newsflash! Life isn't fair!
Re Finacnial Difficulty (by: JB4S7 - 5/14/2013)
edmonds (by: rambo - 5/14/2013)
i heard that allegedly edmonds got his wife to drop his charges, but she was allegedly sporting a black eye. All hear say. but allegedly you can request the police report from the sheriff office. lots of funky business going on
Concealed Weapon (by: Blindman~ - 5/13/2013)
It just didn't seem right that it would take two years for the city to conclude it's business with the firefighters union. How could the union play hard-ball for so long with the city, knowing the financial issues the city is facing bcause of the economy? It just seems like the union must have felt empowered, as if it had a concealed weapon stashed under its belt. And at this last meeting, the union pulled out their big gun, but the gun was loaded with blanks, and as it popped the council was not impressed. Life goes on!
(by: Mrs Robinson - 5/12/2013)
ponder that- so you feel only people from Highlands County should work at the fire dpt? Aren't there fulltimers in employee who are from other countys? Like Mr Edmonds even? Im sure now that a new contract is in place the unfilled positions can be filled now. maybe you should apply. Or do you already work there?
what a joke (by: speaking the truth - 5/12/2013)
This whole thing is a complete joke made by absolute disgraces to the city of sebring. the pension plan they "supposedly" had on the table in 2011 was nothing more than the beginings of negotiations. They could not of taken it then without everything else negotiated too. This city might as well close the doors to the fire department and let volunteers run rampid because there is not a firefighter that is going to make a career at a place where publix has a better pay, better retirement, and less life hazards. The council is a joke and I feel sorry for the citizens because they are going to be the ones to pay for the rejects on the council.
Not in Avon Park! (by: soothsayer - 5/12/2013)
The fire fighters in Avon park have elected and will continue to get those elected that they want in office to advocate for their needs. Deleon is in for the biggest embarrassement of his life if he even thinks about doing away with the AP fire fighters. Watch out King Julian. You may have gotten away with it with the police department, but the fite fighters won't be bullied into submission by you.
street news (by: Funky town - 5/12/2013)
kumba - funky business with another ff wife. Speaking of funky business what is the latest on the arrest of Mr Edmonds?
ponder that (by: ponder this - 5/10/2013)
Don't kid yourself, Deleon wrote the playbook on negotiations. Sebring could learn a lot by taking notes on the operations in Avon Park.
Are you kidding me?? (by: Amazed! Why not shut the whole county down?? - 5/10/2013)
Really??? Please for the love of God, tell me the city starts these Fire Fighters out at more than $10 hour?? Then, to take away the "reward", if you will, because it may bankrupt the poor people??? Fine, men, there are other counties hiring. Go for it. Your efforts aren't appreciated here it seems. I believe MCDONALDS pays that?? An insult!!! If youve ever used their sevices, you've been more than greatful, I'm sure. Absolutely ridiculous!!!
Mr. Firefighter Friend (by: Blindman~ - 5/10/2013)
I understand all your saying, but your interest is probably personal, mine is not. I just wonder when your secretary reads your post if she is going to know it's you. And if that happens, how will she feel about your comment? Just how well does your office pay employees, and are they on a retirement program? Kudos to John Clark for stepping up and exposing an implied myth that firefighters will be left with nothing when they retire. The entire council ruled correctly. And btw, no firefighters will retire at $10 per hour because their wages will go up in the future. Of course you knew that when you said it, but you still tried!
Andrew Fells (by: Peter Bhorn - 5/10/2013)
So what if Fells has a silver spoon. This does not make him dumb, he knows the City was going bankrupt. You are ignorant to assume that all people that are born with money are insensitive and lack experience. Fells is a hard worker, and deserves recognition for having some testes, something you lack.
To: Chief Batz (by: Bronco Billy - 5/10/2013)
Just a reminder to never leave your computer unattended, log-off when your done, and protect your password. The Lehigh Acres Fire Chief was accused of visiting inappropriate websites by a disgruntled employee's wife and resigned. Certainly this won't happen to you.
(by: Firefighter friend - 5/10/2013)
Blindman, a republic as you say is supposed to give up certain natural rights in exchange for those invested with this power to make the best decisions not the simplest, cheapest, or easiest to present to their constituents. The best interest of this City were exchanged for simplistic private enterprise values. The firefighters are not the same as secretaries. These are the people who come into your home, walk by your jewelry and family heirlooms to pick your lifeless body off of the floor and start CPR. These are the people that risk their lives to protect you and you things from a wide range of hazards and risks you never know exist. Do you still want the lowest bidder, I think we would be better off with a volunteer station rather than rely on the bottom of the barrel paid firemen. While there are some who could do this for free and still keep some sense of self respect there is no paid firefighters that will retire at this department with a 401k at ten dollars/ hr.
(by: Concerned citizen - 5/10/2013)
I find it funny that at the same meeting Councilman Clarke said "lets not forget the firefighters get social security" then later said social security like these pension plans are a lie...hmm so which one is it sir? Which truth shall we receive?
Again, facts are pushed aside for ideals (by: Not so blindman - 5/10/2013)
Fact: 1. the city is no closer to going bankrupt than they are to finding qualified councilmen.
disgusting (by: bob jacobs - 5/10/2013)
its sad to see that the future of these firefighters and fire dept. was decided by 4 uneducated council members that have no idea what goes on at that fire dept. They will soon see that dept finally dissolve but then again that is probably their goal and the citizens will ultimately pay the price. Is it coincidence that in seven years that dept. has spiraled down the drain or maybe its current admin. Happy centennial
Good for the City (by: Local Resident - 5/10/2013)
Fortune400 ... It was the firefighters who declined the original offer that they later wanted. Their choice. It's the risk they took and it backfired. Kudos to John Clark and the City.
(by: Blindman~ - 5/10/2013)
David, everybody knows you don't own the pension until you have served enough time. When you become vested, that's when the "promise" of being locked into the retirement program kicks in, not before. The City of Sebring has kept it's promise to the 8 vested firefighters who will keep their pension plans. To imply a promise has been broken to non-vested employees is contradictory, in fact it's a lie and a disservice to the city driven by greed.
Facts are fact and in this case a matter of public record (by: karma - 5/10/2013)
You reap what you sow. Some of you fire"men" ( I use the term men loosely because it appears several of you are nothing more than overgrown spoiled brats) appear to forget you live in a small town. Word gets around. So does certain letters. Not to mention several of you have no problem posting your ridiculousness on the web. I would say some of you should be ashamed of yourselves but it would obviously fall on deaf ears. Case in point complaints of the "good ole boy system". Don't you have one in your mist in regards to the employment of Lobozzo? Hypocrites. How can you worry about the speck in your brothers eye when there is a plank in yours?
AP is Watching You (by: PonderThat - 5/10/2013)
Oh and I forgot to mention to the APFD don't think your gliding down the road of greatness, I believe Julius Cesar Deleon is watching and taking notes.
Attention Volunteers (by: Ponder That - 5/10/2013)
That will be the next sign on the circle of Sebring. I hope council is paying close attention to the dealings of the FD and take note that only one of their current part timers is from Highlands County. Oh and maybe the general public would like to be reminded that their are currently over 8 unfilled positions at the FD and the City is not filling them with full time people. As Scotty told the union in a negotiation hearing that this city FD started out as volunteer and can be taken back to volunteer if need be. Hows that for negotiation skills! Look at Sun n Lake FD and compare transactions because this could look similar. Hey Scott Mann keep your phone close looks like another opportunity is gonna come calling. And for the guys at 14 and 15 good luck, get out, but until then keep shining the BRASS!!
Union/pay (by: Jeff - 5/10/2013)
Shame on the City of Sebring, the FF union and Chief Batz. The city should handle its business better. They're the ones who offered the plan to the firefighters in the first place and now want to retract. The IAFF, and especially their local officers, did a horrible job negotiating the terms. The officers, who I am sure are all vested members, should be voted out and the IAFF should carry any legal fees for what's to come. In this case the Chief did a horrible job of covering his guys. The city FD is one of 3 full time paid depts. this county has and has provided a valuable service at their own personal risk and for what? The luxury of working long hard hrs for 12 bucks an hr. and the promise of a " decent" retirement when the time comes. If we were in a more populated area this would not have happened and I believe that it will be overturned by the courts should the IAFF help defray the costs of the union members. SHAMEFUL.
Mr Fortune 400 (by: Joe - 5/10/2013)
The city has that right to reject the mediators recommendations. You honestly think an outside mediator should be running the City? Maybe you should re-read the article again focusing on the statement from Mr Clark "Reality is every single firefighter is going to be drawing social security too. Everybody keeps glossing over this stuff. Unfortunately for whatever reason, the union rejected the deal that I believe in hindsight was a terrible mistake on their part. They rolled the dice and lost." Get that? Now read up 3 paragraphs before that one. They were offered the same as the PD. Vested and nonvested keep their pensions. New hires 401ks. The Fire department union REJECTED that.
Kudos to the City Council (by: Local Resident - 5/10/2013)
Once again, John Clark is the voice of reason. For anyone with any doubts, his explanation makes it crystal clear. Look back to the original offer in 2011. If the fire dept has regrets for saying "no" at the time, then that's something it now has to deal with.
(by: Fortune400 - 5/9/2013)
I do not think is fair to take away what was promise by the city to their firefighters. What good does the ruling from the mediator did? The expert spoke and city officials decided to ignore his recommendations of leaving the non vested in the plan, and new hires on a 401k.
DB vs 401k (by: Scrappleroad - 5/9/2013)
Was the option discussed that the new 401k involve a matching amount (within in a defined matching range?). I would have to believe that it could be a win-win for both, as all parties are contributing but the city would not be burdened with all the liability. It also might be a positive 'sell' for all parties.
sebring (by: Shields - 5/9/2013)
Scotty is making the AP Manager seem like a tamed bull.
street news (by: kumba - 5/9/2013)
Hey heard that Captain Barefield was just axed out of sebring for funky business. Any truth?
Good Job! (by: Blindman~ - 5/9/2013)
This is exactly how a republic is supposed to work. The people elect qualified representatives to exercise responsible judgement and authority when needed and the entire council came through on both issues. Mr. Lobozzo's position is easily understood, his son being a firefighter. Someone had to make the tough decisions for the future health & well-being of Sebring and they did. The entire city council deserves applause!
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