Retroactive pay for Penticton’s firefighters is going to set the city back almost two million dollars.
According to Gillian Kenny, human resources manager for the City of Penticton, retroactive pay for the five years Penticton firefighters were without a contract totals $1.89 million.
After being in off and on negotiations since Dec. 2009, the city and the firefighters agreed to go to binding arbitration in 2014. The arguments were finally heard in June 2015 and the arbitrator, David McPhillips, returned his decision in July, awarding the firefighters a five-year contract with 1.5 per cent increases in January and June of the first two years, then 2.5 per cent each year after that.
Because of accounting software changes at city hall, the total cost of the retroactive payments took some time to work out.
Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said the final $1.89 million figure hasn’t come before council yet, but he expects it will be part of the budget presentation and planning process beginning late this month.
The cost of the settlement won’t come as a shock to the city’s budget, according to chief financial officer Colin Fisher, who explained the city has been quietly building a reserve fund during the last five years of negotiations, which covered the total amount.
Kenny said the city has just finished making the last retroactive payment to the firefighters, and they are working on one final detail of the arbitration.
“We still have a difference of opinion on one small issue, but we are working that out,” said Kenny, who explained the issue revolved around retroactive premiums for employees who were on short-term disability. “I am sure we will find a resolution. It’s how you calculate the information. It would be so minor you wouldn’t see a difference in that ($1.89 million) number.”
Penticton’s firefighters will soon be negotiating a new contract, since the arbitrated agreement only covers up to Dec. 31, 2015. Before a new round of negotiations can begin, a replacement will need to be brought in for fire chief Wayne Williams, who is retiring on Dec. 31.
The posting for Williams’ replacement closes on Nov. 6, but Kenny expects it will take some time to choose his replacement and get that person in place. She said they will sort through the applications and then start interviewing. Typically these are panel interviews with two to three people, according to Kenny.
“In this particular position, it will be myself as well as our CAO (Eric Sorenson) interviewing. We haven’t determined anybody else on the panel at this point,” said Kenny, adding that the process is likely to take a month, depending on schedules.
“On top of that, it may take a while for the successful candidate to get into position, depending on their personal circumstances,” said Kenny.
Williams is currently on medical leave, with deputy chief Dave Spalding taking over his responsibilities. Kenny said that will be the case after Williams’ Dec. 31 retirement as well, until the new chief takes over.
Mike Richards, president of the Penticton local of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the department is struggling a little without a chief, but things are going well overall; Spalding is doing a good job and the firefighters are good at working as a team. There is little point, he said, in beginning negotiations for a new contract until the new chief is settled in his job, but he is hoping that everyone will be going into the negotiations soon with a fresh attitude.
“We may have an informational meeting before then but probably just to set the terms of going forward. I don’t expect anything meaningful would take place until the new chief is in place,” said Richards. “We hope that us and the chief and the CAO will be standing there shaking hands with smiles on our faces in a very short period of time. I don’t think anybody would like that whole six-year arbitration process. I think that everybody learned from that process,” said Richards.