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Pay deal closer after firefighters budge

Hernando County firefighters and administrators inched closer to a salary agreement Tuesday, as the union slightly lowered its overall pay demand.

The sides remained $29,575 apart, even after the firefighters dropped their raise request from 8.7 to 8.4 percent. The money isn't there, though, County Administrator Paul McIntosh said.

"We're still at the table," McIntosh said. The county has offered 7.5 percent.

Salaries are the only item under negotiation, and both sides want an agreement before Jan. 1. They appear to have settled on firefighter-paramedic and firefighter-EMT starting pay, which would remain below the new area high set by the Spring Hill Fire-Rescue District, but still would bring raises of about $2,000.

The negotiators differ most on lieutenant pay. Firefighters proposed raises of 12 to 17 percent _ down from their original request _ stating that unit leaders consistently should be paid more than the people who report to them.

The administration offered lieutenants increases of 7.7 to 12.8 percent, suggesting that the market for lieutenants is not as competitive as the market for paramedics.

Lt. Tony Noble, the union's lead negotiator, declined to comment about the union salary proposal until the administration formally responds. Even if the pay issues get resolved, he said, other problems exist.

"We are really top heavy. It's just ridiculous," Noble said. "The morale down here is just terrible."

Such woes cannot be fixed by pay alone, county personnel director Barbara Dupre said.

"When people are overworked, giving you 5 percent more money is not going to make you not overwhelmed," she said. "Generally speaking, three to six months is about the time in which that (money) will satisfy."

Operational issues must be tackled internally by the chief and firefighters, McIntosh said. However, he added, some of them might get settled at the negotiation table in lieu of added money.

The firefighters have one year remaining on their contract.