Fire Union to Offer Cash to Kill Fee Hikes

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The Orange County Fire Authority’s board of directors may table a decision to raise some fees tonight, as the firefighters’ union will be offering $170,000 to offset contracted salary increases, said Joe Kerr, president of the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association.

The Orange County Register reported yesterday that the fire authority is considering raising the fees to cover the cost of a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment to non-sworn personnel scheduled for the 2010-11 fiscal year. The salary increase is part of a labor contract with the union that dates to 2006.

If the union’s offer is made, and accepted, then the decision on fee increases could be postponed for a year, Kerr said.

Among the increased fees that the OCFA is considering are those charged for annual permit inspections and construction reviews. The proposed hikes angered the Building Industry Association of Southern California, which sent a letter to the fire authority.

The Register quoted the letter as saying it puts the pay increases “on the backs of an industry that has been devastated by the economic crisis.”

Currently, each side is blaming the other for the need for fee increases. According to the Register, the union turned down a request from the fire chief to forgo the salary increase. But the union says that when the contract was signed there was no mention of these fees being raised in the future.

“For the fire department to make that connection — in my opinion — is totally disingenuous,” Kerr said.

Kerr also questioned the timing of the potential fee increases, which come after the department and the union brokered a deal earlier this year that brought back a part-time handcrew by slashing $1.9 million from the workers’ compensation fund.

The fire authority agreed to the deal only after a union-sponsored audit revealed that workers’ compensation was over-funded by $19 million.

“After the process is over, they dream up these new fees — we believe — to alienate the BIA,” Kerr said.

The firefighters’ union will be partnering with the Orange County Employees Association to make the offer. Nick Berardino, head of the OCEA, said the offer is being made to “get the county moving again.”

How the cost of the offer will be shared among the unions — if at all — is still being hammered out, Berardino said.



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