By Josh LaBella
The West Shore Fire Department extended the contract with its firefighters for for two years last week, which resulted in 0 percent increases in wages. The decision was made to minimize the mill rate increase the district would be subject to in the next fiscal year. The 28 firefighters voted unanimously to approve the deal.
West Shore Fire Department Chief Stephen Scafariello said the department would have originally seen a 1.17 percent pay increase this year with the contract ending next year.
“They did it to offset the cost to the taxpayers,” said Scafariello.
Scafariello said the extension was negotiated with the West Shore Board of Fire Commissioners. At their meeting on May 3, Scafariello said the citizens in attendance seemed appreciative of the decision.
Robert Bruneau, a commissioner of the board said they had been in negotiation with the union for the last couple of weeks. He said by extending the contract they saved the fire district about $135,000 a year, or $270,000.
“The motivation behind that was to the West Shore taxpayers a little bit of a break where we could,” said Bruneau. “We lost a bit of pilot funding from the state of Connecticut and in losing that we clearly had a problem going into the next year or two.”
Bruneau said the pilot funding the district lost from the state amounted to about $220,000 for the year. He added the state is also requiring them to match a higher percentage of the department’s Municipal Employees Retirement Fund.
According to Bruneau, the contract extension resulted in an increase of a quarter mill for district taxpayers opposed to half a mill or higher.
“For [the union] to do that, that’s huge,” said Bruneau. “For the commission to be able to do that with the body, it’s a big thing. We were able to ease the burden on West Shore taxpayers.”
Bruneau said the collaboration between the commission and the union was phenomenal.
Chris Haley, the union representative for the West Shore Fire Department, said the initial contract the department was working under ended July 1, 2020. He said they would have entered negotiations in December or January.
Haley said the department felt good about the decision. He said it was no secret the city has financial problems.
“I would be a fool to say that anybody is happy to pass up raises,” said Haley. “This would be six zeros that I’ve had in my career. But it passed unanimously. I think a lot of our guys understand that there is a lot of financial hardship in the city.”
According to Haley, there is a good relationship between the department and the commission. He said when all sides understand of the situation it makes it a lot easier to negotiate.
“I’m remarkably proud of my guys for understanding the situation that’s going on,” said Haley, “in peoples home and for the city government.”
Haley said the response from the community was phenomenal and he is glad to know the fire department has their support. He said the city is all in it together.