San Bernardino County’s firefighters will accept pension cuts and smaller raises in an effort to help preserve public services and balance the county’s budget.
San Bernardino County Professional Firefighters, Local 935, which consists of the county’s 344 firefighters, fire captains and fire engineers, voted 98 percent in favor of accepting a reduction in benefits when their contract goes into effect July 2 – something that would save the county approximately $2.14 million annually.
“County firefighters are hyper-aware of the economic climate out there,” Bret Henry, president of the San Bernardino County Professional Firefighters, Local 935, said in a San Bernardino County Sun article. “We’re living through the hard times as well. We’re interested in a balanced budget as much as everybody else.”
The concessions would involve a 7 percent salary reduction through a reduced retirement pickup, a 50 percent reduction in salary step increases from 5 percent to 2.5 percent and a capped medical subsidy that would no longer apply toward retirement calculations. The benefit cuts are also part of a larger plan to cut the county’s increasing pension costs by $30 million a year, but they would only occur if other unions agreed to the same concessions.
San Bernardino County’s Board of Supervisors already approved nearly identical concessions for the county’s 537 exempt employees earlier in April to save an estimated $5.7 million – the exempt employees include board staff and administrators. The county is currently discussing similar benefit reductions with specialized peace officers, public attorneys, probation officers and some special districts employees to help reduce a budget deficit that is expected to grow to $122.5 million over the next five years, according to the San Bernardino County Sun article.
“The current economic climate is hard on everyone, including our firefighters and their families,” Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Josie Gonzales said of the firefighters’ vote. “The leadership they’ve displayed makes their sacrifice particularly heroic. Our firefighters are to be commended for putting public safety and public service first.”
Had the firefighters not accepted the concessions, and should other unions not accept similar changes, County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux said San Bernardino County would have to make severe cuts to county services, including public safety, and have a “significant number” of layoffs.
Devereaux has spoken with the boards of the San Bernardino Public Employees Association and the San Bernardino County Safety Employees Benefit Association about the county’s projected budget deficits in hopes of beginning conversations about the concessions. The two associations, together, represent more than 70 percent of San Bernardino County’s workforce.
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