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FIREFIGHTERS TO PAY PART OF HEALTH INSURANCE

Employees with family plans will be affected, but those with individual coverage won't be.

Bowing to an estimated $1.3 million revenue shortfall for next year, Spring Hill firefighters have agreed to forgo a pay raise and share the cost of an 8.1 percent increase in their health insurance premiums.

The district's fire board voted 4-1 Wednesday evening to ratify the contract put forth by the members of the Professional Firefighters of Spring Hill Local 2794. The deal calls for firefighters for the first time to pay part of the health insurance costs of their spouses and family members.

The district now pays the entire cost of health insurance for employees and their dependents.

"It wasn't unanimous, but it was a strong majority," said union president Troy Hagar of the membership's vote. "We realize how tough things are now for everybody."

Under the revised contract, the district will still pay the entire $427.26 monthly cost of its employees' health insurance premiums. However, employees with spouses will pay $34.23 toward the $885.74 monthly cost for premiums. Employees with children will pay $28.16 toward the monthly $776.04 cost, and those with family plans will pay $69.59 a month with the district picking up the remaining $1,288.56 cost.

The union currently has about 110 members.

The union proposal didn't exactly sail through the approval process. Commissioner Robert Giammarco, who cast the lone dissenting vote, felt that the union could have given more to help ease the district's budget strain.

"We're not doing enough for the taxpayers here," Giammarco said. "Look around the county and you see every department cutting back. We're not dealing with reality."

In 2008, the union signed a three-year contract that stipulated that salary increases and health insurance would be negotiated annually. Hagar said the salary freeze would not affect annual step increases based on years of service or incentive pay.

The district's final budget hearing will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the district headquarters on Bob Hartung Court.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

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