Maintaining Public Safety in a Challenging Economic Environment
The Champaign Fire Department Administration has proposed to eliminate the Station 4 engine company as part of its budget contingency planning. The Champaign Firefighters IAFF Local #1260 is very concerned about closing any of our suppression companies, even on a part-time basis, as it puts at risk both the firefighters and the citizens we are sworn to protect. We are particularly disturbed by the proposal as there are other budget reduction alternatives available that do not jeopardize the safety of our community.
The City of Champaign recognized the need for a ladder and engine company to serve the west side of the City when it opened and staffed Ladder 114 in 1974. At that time the fire department responded to 758 calls for emergency services. The ladder and engine company have operated continuously from station four for the last 36 years as the emergency needs of the city have grown. Today the Champaign Fire Department responds to more than 6500 calls for emergency services.
The current apparatus and staffing levels are the result of decades of experience and planning specific to the challenges and risks in the City of Champaign. They reflect the minimum resources necessary to provide emergency services to the citizens. As you know, these services include, but are not limited to, fire suppression, auto extrication, hazardous materials, technical rescue operations and emergency medical services. The fire department and city council have reaffirmed a commitment to adequate staffing and emergency response capabilities twice in the past five years. Not only did council reject a proposal to relocate a company and personnel from station four to staff a new fire station, but also identified an existing staffing deficiency and attempted to secure federal funding to increase the number of firefighters at the station.
The Champaign Firefighters understand the current financial difficulties facing the City and firmly believe there are alternative options available to close the existing budget gap without reducing the fire department’s ability to provide services to the public. While the options are certainly not appealing to our membership, they reflect our commitment to serving the citizens we are sworn to protect.
Local 1260 has presented proposals that would defer or forfeit any wage increase in the current fiscal year. We did so to demonstrate our commitment to the community. In return, the union asked the City only for an agreement that codifies its commitment to providing the resources necessary to adequately provide emergency services. Another option we are willing to support is a short term restructuring of the amortization period to pay the unfunded liability that currently exists in the Champaign Fire Pension Fund. Although this too is unappealing, it would provide short-term savings to the City without negatively impacting the safety of the citizens.
Regardless of the budget saving sources, please know the Champaign Firefighters remain committed to working with the City to meet our economic challenges and, as always, are available to discuss any option that allows us to fulfill our primary mission – serving our community.
· The truck company was added to Station 4 in 1974. At that time Station 4 received 181 calls for service. In the last 12 months Station 4 has had 1400 calls for service. Additionally, Stations 5 and 6 on the west side of Champaign have had 675 and 295 calls respectively.
· Champaign Fire Department’s poorest “first alarm” and “working fire” response times are on the west side of Champaign. Closing a company at Station 4 will further increase response times and instances of the station lacking an available unit.
· In 2007 the Champaign City Council considered a proposal to close a company at Station 4 and move the personnel to open Station 6. Council rejected the proposal due to its negative effect on response times.
· City Council has previously identified an existing staffing shortage at Station 4 and has tried repeatedly over the last few years to increase staffing at Station 4 through a SAFER grant. Administration’s proposal would further reduce the staffing level.
· Local 1260 has introduced a proposal that codifies the existing staffing practices to adequately provide emergency services to the City and has offered to forfeit ANY wage increases in the current fiscal year.
· Although there has been much confusion and misinformation over the intent and effects of the proposal, the solution DOES:
o Forfeit a wage increase for the bargaining unit despite increases being awarded to all other bargaining units that have ratified to date (AFSCME 3 ¼%)
o Reduce the earnings of a new firefighter by $110,000 over a 30 year career
o Close the current fire department operating budget deficit of over $200,000
o Reduce current and future pension obligations for fire department employees
o Codify the existing staffing practices that have provided exemplary emergency services to the citizens of Champaign for decades
o Allow the City to retain the inherent employer right to manage the size of the department
o Authorize the City to reduce staffing in the event of a bona fide economic need or due to a lack of work
· The Union’s proposal DOES NOT:
o Reduce response capabilities of the Champaign Fire Department
o Prevent the City Council and Fire Department Administration from laying off bargaining unit members or managing the size of the deparment
Recently, Champaign Firefighters Local 1260 offered City Council and City Staff a concession package of 325K in savings over 18 months, all in attempt to preserve the fire protection that the citizens of Champaign have enjoyed and deserved. The City refused our concession offer and is choosing to brownout engine company 154, placing the lives of citizens and firefighters in jeopardy.
· Locally, both Danville and Urbana have chosen to include staffing provisions in their collective bargaining agreements. Both communities have been able to negotiate bargaining unit concessions in this difficult economic environment.
· Current statute allows the City of Champaign to extend the fire department pension fund’s amortization period by 13 years. Extending the payment period would immediately result in significant savings to the City. This approach may also be re-evaluated and modified in the future as the City’s revenue stream improves.
· These solutions demonstrate a shared sacrifice that will meet the financial needs of the City without jeopardizing the safety of the citizens our members are sworn to protect.