City officials have spent many weeks trying to figure out how to keep all of Modesto’s 11 fire stations open despite a very thin Fire Department budget. They have explored several options to keep the stations open and not lay off firefighters.
But one thing officials have not talked about publicly is having firefighters pay more for their pensions.
Modesto City FireFighters Association members pay 1.5 percentage points of the 9 percent employee pension contribution, with the city picking up the difference. That’s the lowest amount among the city’s six employee groups.
Modesto’s civilian employees pay the full 7 percent of their pension contribution. Modesto Police Officers Association members pay 6.5 percentage points of their 9 percent contribution, and Modesto’s police sergeants, lieutenants and captains recently agreed to pay the full 9 percent starting in December in exchange for receiving incentive pay. They have been paying 6.5 percent.
The one caveat to this is that city employees hired starting a couple of years ago have been paying the full employee contribution.
How much employees pay matters to the city’s bottom line. Human Resources Director Joe Lopez said that every percentage point MCFFA members pick up saves the city about $173,000 annually.
If MCFFA members went from 1.5 percent to 6.5 percent – which is what MPOA members pay – that would save the city about $865,000 annually. The city would save about $1.3 million annually if MCFFA members paid the full 9 percent.
The Fire Department’s budget is about $22.6 million, which is nearly $2 million less than its previous budget.
Lopez said the city and the MCFFA came close about two years ago to having firefighters pay more for their pensions but unfortunately could not reach a deal. The city and the MCFFA are in labor talks now.
MCFFA officials say their association has helped the city weather tough economic times by delaying and giving up pay raises and other measures.
The City Council’s Finance Committee agreed this week to give Fire Chief Sean Slamon and other city officials more time to work out the details to keep all of the fire stations open. Slamon and the other officials are expected to report back to the committee at its Sept. 24 meeting.
Slamon told committee members that the additional time also will give the city a better handle on its finances. By Sept. 24, the city should know how much money it has left over from its 2013-14 fiscal year, which ended June 30, and how much money it will get back from the recent breakup of the Modesto Regional Fire Authority.