Council rejects fact-finding panel’s recommendations, negotiations continue

Richmond Fire Department members continue working without a 2023 contract.

Common Council rejected a fact-finding panel’s recommendations Feb. 6 with an 8-1 vote. There was no discussion prior to the roll-call vote, only a recommendation from Ron Oler, chair of council’s finance committee, that council reject the recommendations of a two-year contract with a 2% raise each year, three new positions and leaving the maximum longevity for pension calculations at 20 years.

Oler framed the recommendation as “due to the extenuating circumstances of the city’s financial obligations in the present and future.”

The city and RFD’s union, the International Association of Firefighters AFL-CIO Local 1408, now will return to the fact-finding panel. Each side placed two members on the five-member panel, and that quartet placed the fifth member.

City administration found the panel’s recommendations untenable, which brought the issue before council. Both sides presented their case to council members Jan. 17.

Lucinda Wright was the only council member to support adopting the recommendations as the union’s new contract. After the meeting, she expressed concern about RFD losing members.

“We train all these firefighters and EMTs to protect us, and then they don’t get raises compared to others around,” Wright said. “They’ll leave; they’ll go to other places. They’ll go to major counties and cities where they can make what they feel that they’re worth.”

The city already is using $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to fund its 2023 budget, without any raises for Local 1408 members included. RFD members do receive a longevity financial benefit each year on their service anniversary, even if there’s not an increase to the base wage.

Mayor Dave Snow, who did not attend the Feb. 6 meeting, said after the Jan. 17 meeting that he’s responsible for projecting and protecting the city’s financial sustainability beyond just one year. He also said that negotiations extended beyond the budget deadline.

Wright said she understands the fiduciary part of the negotiations.

“Now the question is, how does the city help? How does city government help city employees?” she said.

Two other actions council took Feb. 6 also impact the fire department.

The first allows RFD to seek and accept donations. The department received $78,000 in donations last year, and the ordinance unanimously passed.

Interim Chief Tim Brown said that in addition to its regular fundraising efforts the department is raising money for a Safe Haven Baby Box. An installed box provides a safe place for babies to be left, Brown said. Fire personnel will be alerted when a baby is put into the box and will be able to take the baby and ensure it receives the care it needs.

The second involves a change in the department’s paramedicine program. A $1 million, two-year grant funds the program that would include a social worker and a paramedic.

Council unanimously passed an ordinance that replaces the paramedic’s position with a second social worker. Brown said that as the program has developed, the department has realized that a second social worker would be more beneficial to the program and the city’s residents.

The program works to address citizens’ opiate problems, mental health issues and fall risks by following up on police, EMS and fire calls to help individuals receive additional needed services or safety measures.

Council also unanimously passed two ordinances that will allow the Sanitary District to apply for and accept two grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Both would assist the city’s recycling program.

The first, for $325,000 across three years, funds education outreach and recycling programs. The second, for $750,000 across three years, would enable needed replacement of equipment.

Neither grant requires a match.

RP&L reliability

During the Richmond Power & Light board meeting that followed council’s meeting, General Manager Tony Foster discussed how a June 13 storm impacted the utility’s reliability ratings last year.

RP&L scored 99.9888% on the reliability index that measures the number of customer hours service was available against the customer hours demanded. The 2021 reliability index was 99.9949%.

During the year, 13,110 customers experienced a power interruption for 1,256,169 total minutes. The serious storm June 13 affected 2,991 customers for 596,371 total minutes. Those minutes are 47.5% of the year’s lost service.

Foster also estimates that the storm cost RP&L $282,386 in pay, materials, mutual aid from other utilities, fuel and additional pension and payroll tax payments.

Additionally, three vehicles striking utility equipment created 63,660 lost customer minutes, animals caused 110,813 lost minutes and trees caused 111,290 lost minutes.

The board, which is comprised of council members, gave Foster permission to seek bids for two line department vehicles and a mowing contract for the service center and 21 current and vacant substations.

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Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.