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New Canaan firefighters to get pay raise

Published 3:25 pm, Thursday, December 19, 2013
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The New Canaan Town Council unanimously approved on Dec. 11 a four-year contract with the firefighters' union that includes gradual pay raises and the extinction of longevity compensation.

The council and the International Association of Firefighters Local 3224 agreed to increase wages by 1.75 percent in 2014, 2 percent in 2015 and 2.25 percent in 2016. There will be no retroactive wage increase for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Officials weren't able to provide the overall cost to the town. Human Resources Director Cheryl Jones said calculating such a number would be "very difficult" because it depends on a number of variables. "You don't know how many people are going to be training," she said as an example. "We also don't know how much health premiums are going to be from the year before."

Jones said, however, that a rough estimate projects the increase in cost to the town over the next four years to be lower than 2.5 percent. In previous years, Jones said, the contract's cost to the town had been increasing by more than 2.5 percent.

"I do feel that this is a good contract for the town and fair to the firefighters," she said.

Capt. Rob Petrone, the president of the union, said the agreement was indeed "fair" to both sides.

The contract also calls for the elimination of longevity pay. The seniority-based annual stipend will save the town about $27,100 over the next four years, Jones said. Shift differential -- higher pay for overnight shifts, for example -- also was eliminated, saving the town about $120,000 in four years.

The agreement runs from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2017.

The department has 24 firefighters, including four lieutenants and four captains. Chief Jack Hennessey is not a member of the union. The firefighters' salaries depend on how long they've been working at the department.

The annual salary for firefighters in probationary status, for instance, will jump from $53,511 in 2014 to $56,186 in 2016. The captains' salaries, which are currently $84,785 and $90,463, will jump to $94,000 and $99,000, respectively, in 2016.

According to the contract, the town now will contribute 50 percent of the firefighters' dental insurance plan -- up from 25 percent.

Under the new agreement, the town now has to continue paying health insurance premiums for the survivor dependents of firefighters killed in the line of duty. The town will stop paying spouses when they remarry or when the employee would have become 65.

Children of a deceased employee will keep the plan until they turn 18 -- or 26 if they're still in school.

Another variable that makes it hard to calculate the overall cost to taxpayers is reimbursement for college tuition, which depends on how many firefighters will be taking courses, Jones said. The new contract brings tuition reimbursement from $2,500 to $3,000 a year. Courses must be related to firefighters' work or science.

First Selectman Robert Mallozzi said an estimated cost to the town would be known once the Fire Department has a 2014-15 budget proposal, which will happen in the coming months.

noliveira@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6582