Murrieta firefighters are set to begin paying a 9 percent retirement contribution previously paid entirely by the city.
The amendment to the Murrieta Firefighters Association contract is scheduled to go before Murrieta City Council on Tuesday.
Their current labor contract does not expire until June 30, 2014. However, association members approached the city with knowledge of the current budget situation, Murrieta Firefighters Association Spokesperson Sean DeGrave told Patch Monday.
"It wasn’t really a negotiation, it was ‘we wanted to do the right thing,’” said DeGrave, an engineer/paramedic with the department. “We are not blind to what is going on.”
Under the current agreement, the city pays 9 percent of the employer-paid employee retirement contribution to California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS). The agreement takes that to 0 percent, which follows concessions taken by other city employee groups this year.
Murrieta police in July agreed to pay 6 percent of their employee retirement contribution, move to a two-tier retirement system and pay more of their health care benefits.
In September, general city employees agreed to pay 6.5 percent—8 percent by July 2013— of their contribution along with a two-year retirement system.
With a 2012-2013 fiscal year budget of $11.4 million, the Murrieta Fire Department is seeking ways to make up a $1.7-million shortfall. This is after already cutting the budget by approximately $2 million, said Murrieta fire Chief Matt Shobert.
“We have got a budget issue here in the Fire Department we are working real hard to solve,” Shobert said, when reached by phone Monday.
“We have talked about employee reductions. We have cut expenditures...and now the employes have stepped up yet again. I am humbled yet again by the professionalism and compassion to help solve the budget problem."
The Murrieta Fire Management Association, which consists of three battalion chiefs, also agreed to the concession.
As part of the agreement, the contract will be extended through 2018. The extension includes cuts taken in January 2011 that equaled 5 percent of their pay.
This latest concession is expected to save the city $314,581 in the Fire Fund this fiscal year, and an estimated $339,480 in 2013-2014.
In exchange, the city agreed to give firefighters $1,850 per year—up from $650— toward uniforms and gear.
Members of the association, which number 46, will now get a payout for the expense. Previously, firefighters would turn in their receipts and be reimbursed by the city, DeGrave said.
“It was becoming kind of a burden with receipts...that was a city request,” DeGrave said.
Murrieta firefighters are issued necessary uniforms and gear upon hiring, DeGrave explained. After that, it is up to them to maintain or replace, he said. The cost of boots can reach $400 for one type, he said.
DeGrave said 100 percent of firefighters agreed to the concession in order to continue “living within the department's means.”
“Our department has done that since 1947. With the subscription fee coming, it is just another effort by our guys to show we are in this together. We are doing our part for the community that we care deeply about.”
The subscription fee DeGrave was referring to will be charged to Murrieta residents when they are treated by Murrieta Fire Department paramedics—an effort to recoup costs of providing paramedics aboard the city's fire engines.
Under an optional subscription program, residents can pay $48 annually for coverage. Otherwise, they will be billed $350 per occurrence. The fee was approved by City Council in July and is soon expected to go into effect.
"I am really proud of the firefighters," Shobert said. "They are really stepping up to the plate. On top of cuts they are already taking, it is pretty amazing."
This article was updated at 11 p.m. Oct. 2 with the following statement sent by Dean Hale, president of the Murrieta Firefighters Association:
The Murrieta Fire Department has been trying to overcome a budget deficit that began with our National and State economy crisis. In addition to the State taking funding that was initially slated for Special Districts, Fire Departments and Local governments; our City has been utilizing our Fire Department's Reserve Fund to pay "internal service fees" since 2009 and causing a larger financial drain on our initially $13+ million dollar reserve budget.
Additionally, the decline in property taxes that the Murrieta Fire Protection District has been dealing with since the economy has driven down home prices; have forced us with finding new ways to exist in these poor economic times.
The City Council adopted a "Paramedic Subscription Fee" that the customer/citizens of our community will be charged for when they call and receive paramedic services, a service that has been free to our citizens since 2000. When this was adopted by the City Council; as a way to offset the costs of providing this vital service; the Murrieta Firefighters' agreed that we are in this along with our community. We have agreed, (outside of our contract), to pay our FULL pension contributions and offset part of the budget shortfall with our employee benefits. We are contributing more than any other labor group in the City.
Along with down staffing that has occurred since 2010; our Fire Department has been operating at 23% below past operating costs. The Murrieta Firefighters have now taken a 14% concession reduction outside of our already agreed to contract. Understanding economic hard times, the Murrieta Firefighters want to salvage the Fire Department and keep our lifesaving services to our community intact. We took an oath to serve this community and that is what we plan to continue to do. The Pride of our Firefighters is always ongoing. We live to reach out, protect and serve you.
We hope that the City Council and its administrative staff understand the sacrifice that the Murrieta Firefighters are once again making. We have been operating at 42% below what the National Fire Protection Agency recommends. We do this because the City tells us that we cannot afford any better. I hope when the economy starts to turn around that the City and their administrators begin to take a look at what it takes to provide a Fire Department what it needs to at least meet national standards.
The continued diligence and professionalism of the Firefighters of this community never ceases to amaze me. The ongoing public education programs that we pay for with our own monies, public events and training that we provide with our own time are many examples of our dedication to the Murrieta community, a community we care so much about.
It is our honor and privilege to continue to be your public servants and continue a service this community has asked of us since 1947; the oldest serving agency here in Murrieta.
I hope the community can see how much we care, not only by our words, but also by our actions.