BROOKSVILLE — Union representatives from the former Spring Hill Fire Rescue District and Hernando County's fire rescue district had their first collective bargaining session with county administrative officials Thursday as the effort to bring the two operations under one roof continues.
As expected, the main topic was money — specifically how to lessen the pay disparities that over the years have seen Spring Hill firefighters earning on average about 12 percent more than their county counterparts.
Robert Rae, the union representative for the firefighters, said the group is proposing to freeze the salaries of Spring Hill fire personnel for three years while adding step pay increases for county firefighters, gradually closing the salary gap.
Top-tier firefighter/paramedics for Spring Hill currently make $55,945 a year; the comparable salary for county personnel is $49,954.
Rae said firefighters from both districts felt that phasing in increases over time was preferable to asking Spring Hill staffers to take a pay reduction.
"Everyone understood that something had to be done to bring the pay scale between the two departments closer together," he said. "We felt this was the most equitable way to do it."
Under the union's proposal, county firefighters would receive a 3 percent raise during the 2013-14 budget year; those who have worked for Spring Hill would receive nothing.
Cheryl Marsden, the county's administrative services director, said while the county's management team has tentatively approved some articles in the new contract, such as holiday and overtime pay, and promotional testing, other items, such as salaries, sick leave and vacation buy-back policies, are in negotiation. They'll be discussed in an executive session with county commissioners this month.
Spring Hill's roughly 105 firefighters have historically enjoyed an advantage over the county's 130 firefighters. Former Spring Hill fire Chief Mike Rampino, who serves as the county's public safety director, pushed district personnel toward greater job training and quicker advancement, which came with higher pay levels.
Consolidation of the two districts began after voters refused to give an independent Spring Hill district any taxing authority.
The merger is scheduled to be completed by Oct. 1.
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.