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City, firefighters close to a new contract, official says


After coming to terms on overtime, payment for fire clothing and raises for emergency medical technicians, the Havre firefighters union and the City Council finance committee have hit a roadblock: 1 percent.

The finance committee Tuesday night proposed raises of 4 percent in the upcoming year, and 3 percent for the following two years for union members classified anywhere from probationary firefighter to captain.

The union, Local 601 of the International Association of Firefighters, didn't budge from what it proposed at last month's negotiations. Members told the finance committee they would accept a 4 percent raise in 2002-03 and 2003-04 , and a 3 percent in the contract's final year.

The finance committee last month offered the union raises of 4 percent, 3 percent and 2 percent.

The other issue on the table at Tuesday night's meeting was how much the city's insurance rates would increase something they haven't done in a decade.

Until now.

A single city employee in 2002-03 will go from paying nothing to paying $25 a month, while a married employee with no children will go from paying $105 to $154. An employee with a family will see a hike in premiums from $150 to $214 a month.

The finance committee proposed that the sides split the increase, with each the city and individual union members paying half.

The union agreed. A single firefighter will pay $13 a month, a family of two, $130, and a family of three or more, $185.

These aren't exact figures, finance committee chairman Tom Farnham said last week, but they're close to how much the insurance rates will go up.

"We brought it up in discussion. That was our suggestion," Farnham said of picking up half the insurance rate hike.

The plan also calls for an increase in the deductible for major medical expenses, from $1,000 to $1,500, and minor medical from $100 to $250, for all city employees.

The city's insurance agent is Steve Mariani of Steve Mariani Insurance in Havre. Mariani represents Intermountain Administrator, the city's provider.

"Compared to the insurance of other employees, that's a decent plan and a decent price," Farnham said last week. "The insurance for the city hasn't been raised in the last 10 years. We've been real lucky."

Union representative Kelly Jones, a driver/operator with the Havre Fire Department, said last month that the raise in insurance premiums had him concerned. He was unavailable for comment today.

In its initial proposal to the finance committee, the union asked for a 7 to 8 percent raise in the upcoming year, and a 6 to 8 percent raise in the ensuing two years. The amount of the increase would have depended on the employee's rank with the department.

The firefighters are in the second year of a two-year contract. The 15 union members received a 1.5 percent pay increase this year, Farnham said.

At earlier meetings, the union agreed to stay with the department's current overtime policy, which is time-and-a-half for the first two hours and regular time thereafter.

The sides also agreed that each firefighter would receive an annual allowance of $350 for the purchase of firefighting clothing. For employees hired after July 1, the city will pay the $350 to the union's treasurer on the firefighter's date of hire. The employee will then receive the money on his/her first anniversary.

The city and union also settled on a raise for emergency medical technicians $25 for basic EMTs and $50 for intermediate.

The union's contract expired on June 30. When an agreement is reached, the terms of the new contract are retroactive to July 1.

The City Council typically sets the preliminary budget in late July or August, sometimes as late as the fall, Farnham said.

"We're getting closer," he said.


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