Seminole council approves firefighter contract with salary boosts, higher minimums, lower pension contributions

The City Council has approved unanimously a new three-year contract with city firefighters that provides for a total 11% in “merit pay increases.”

SEMINOLE — The City Council has approved unanimously a new three-year contract with city firefighters that provides for a total 11% in “merit pay increases.”

Those boosts to base pay — coming in 12-month increments of 3%, 4% and 4%, beginning with the start of the new contract on Oct. 1 — will go to anyone scoring three points or higher on a five-point rating scale in annual evaluations.

Additionally, all bargaining unit salaried employees will get increases of $1.91 to their effective base hourly rate “or be brought to the new minimum rate of pay for their position, whichever is higher,” on Oct. 1.

There are also boosts in minimum pay rates for all job classifications — a big 13% in 2022-23, followed by 2.5% increases both in 2023-24 and 2024-25. The contract sets the minimum salary for a firefighter/EMS at $47,400 in 2022-2023.

The council approved the contract at its May 24 meeting. Members of Local 2896 voted 65-2 to approve the contract in balloting conducted May 17-19.

“It was a true negotiation of back and forth and give and take,” City Manager Ann Toney-Deal said in recommending council approval. “And I believe it was a very successful negotiation.”

The negotiations with Seminole Professional Firefighters Local 2896 started in January. Their relatively quick conclusion contrasts with the situation in 2018, when an impasse was declared and then only a one-year agreement could be reached.

A year later, a three-year pact finally was hammered out, providing merit increases of 2% in 2019-2020, and 4% in fiscal years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022.

With the new contract, Local 2896 also will continue to make strides in lowering the percentage of pay members must contribute to the firefighters’ pension fund.

In the first year, that percentage — which was 15% before 2018 — will be reduced from 12.5% to 12%. Then in 2023-24, it will be lowered to 11% and in 2024-25 to 10%.

Fewer lawyers

Local 2896 President Ryan Gregg said the latest negotiations with the city went “very smoothly.” He credited the hands-on involvement of the city manager, who this time took on the role of lead negotiator in lieu of the city attorney.

“The decision to keep the attorneys out of it unless they were needed really helped,” Gregg said.

He added that the latest pay increases will bring local firefighter salaries more in line with other departments around Pinellas County.

“We were toward the bottom (of regional pay scales), and then we moved toward the middle,” Gregg said. “This contract will bring us a bit higher and definitely will make us competitive with most departments in the county. We’ve got members who have been here for more than 10 years, and they say they have never seen a contract that provides as big increases in pay and minimums as this one.”

No millage hike

Also at the May 24 meeting, Toney-Deal alerted council that staff is finalizing its proposed city budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year and no increase to the city’s current millage rate is envisioned.

Further details won’t be available until staff forwards its budget proposals to council members sometime after July 1. Council will discuss the recommendations at a half-day budget workshop set for 9 a.m. July 23 and will vote on where to cap the city millage rate at its July 26 regular meeting.

In other business, the council authorized assessment work on stormwater infrastructure needs by Advance Engineering & Design of Pinellas Park. Cost of the work, at $77,123, will be covered by American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The council also appointed council member Trish Springer as its voting delegate for the Florida League of Cities’ annual conference in Hollywood, Florida, in August.

The council’s next regular meeting is set for 6 p.m. June 14 in City Hall’s council chambers.