SPRING HILL — Responding to the district's ongoing financial problems, Spring Hill Fire Rescue firefighters and paramedics once again have chosen to forgo pay raises and have surrendered additional benefits to avoid layoffs in the coming fiscal year.
The firefighter contract, which the fire commission approved in a 4-1 vote Wednesday, will save the cash-strapped district about $300,000, said Scott Edmisten, president of the Professional Firefighters of Spring Hill Local 2794, which represents roughly 100 district firefighters.
"It's an answer to the tough times we're all facing," Edmisten said. "We wanted to do our part to help the district save firefighter jobs."
Edmisten said union members overwhelming supported the proposal, which also included no step pay increases, and calls for the members to give up double-time pay for three holidays during the coming year. The contract also calls for the union to switch to a lower cost insurance provider.
There was little discussion by the fire board, most of whom praised the union for its effort. It is the second consecutive year the firefighters have agreed not to push for a raise. However, Commissioner Rob Giammarco opposed the contract, saying he had less than 24 hours to review it.
Like most governmental agencies, the Spring Hill Fire district is facing major financial hurdles. In light of a 15 percent drop in property values that will mean $492,000 less in revenue from property taxes next year, fire Chief Mike Rampino has proposed a "no-frills" $14.4 million budget for 2010-2011.
Rampino told commissioners last month that even with a bump from the present 2.268 ad valorem millage rate to a maximum 2.50, the district would still be nearly $500,000 shy of what is needed to maintain present staffing levels.
Rampino said Wednesday the concessions will go a long way toward closing the budget gap.
"Any time you can get a group willing to work together and come up with a plan that will help everyone, it's a good thing," Rampino said. "You don't find that often these days."
The board also gave the go-ahead to the district to begin charging for requests of paper copies of public documents, as well as for excessive time needed by employees to search for and prepare those documents. Under the policy, there is no charge for any request taking less that 15 minutes of time to produce. Copies of documents will cost 15 cents per page.