LARGO — Last year, the city and its firefighters butted heads over a requirement for mandatory furlough days.
They argued that mandatory days off for firefighters don't work because of their unique scheduling and minimum staffing requirements.
This year, they're at it again, staring at one another over the negotiation table, stalled on a contract that could replace the one that expired six months ago.
Dale Rosko, local president of International Association of Fire Fighters 2427, said the main sticking point in the negotiations are the department's system of step pay increases, based on years of service.
The city wants those eliminated.
"A lot of departments still have them," Rosko said of other municipal departments in Pinellas County.
"We offered to freeze them for two years, and renegotiate raises for the third year."
Without the pay increases, he said, the best firefighters may be snapped up by other departments that can offer better incentives.
The city, however, is facing its worst income shortfall in years due to a sharp decline in property tax revenue, even after increasing its tax rate.
Largo City Manager Mac Craig said the city will bring in outside help to find a solution.
"We are at an impasse. Sometime soon in April, there's going to be a preliminary call by an arbitrator," Craig said.
Both sides will present their cases to the arbitrator, whose binding decision will force a new contract.
Rosko said firefighters can't go on strike, so in the meantime, the department is operating under the terms of its expired contract.
And so far, the union has refused to budge on any more cuts.
"We're already at the bottom in the county for vacation. And they wanted to take more vacation," Rosko said.
Dominick Tao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 580-2951.