BELLEVUE, NE — A shorthanded Bellevue City Council rejected a five-year contract with Bellevue firefighters last week and ordered City Administrator Joe Mangiamelli back to the negotiating table.
Councilmen Paul Cook, Pat Shannon and Jim Moudry gave thumbs-down Jan. 8 to a contract that awards annual pay increases to firefighters and guarantees the promotions of 10 firefighters to the rank of captain over the next five years.
Council member Thomas Burns was the sole vote in favor of the contract. Council members Don Preister and John Hansen were both absent.
Mangiamelli, visibly frustrated over the rejection of a contract that had been in the works for months, asked the council for direction.
“OK council members, I guess I’d ask you for direction,” Mangiamelli said. “We have a negotiated contract that you’ve rejected. What is your alternative? What is your direction?”
Cook told Mangiamelli to take the contract back into negotiations but also to meet with council members to learn their concerns.
“I don’t think we should discuss it here,” Cook told Mangiamelli.
“It’s a negotiation,” Cook said. “I think we should meet with you in groups of three and maybe express some of our concerns and see how they can be addressed in additional negotiations.”
Shannon complained he might have to sell his house to continue living in Bellevue given the expense of the firefighter contract.
The contract will cost the city an additional $300,000 over its five years, or roughly $60,000 a year, Mangiamelli said.
Bellevue Fire Chief Perry Guido said he believes the contract boosts salaries without breaking the bank. Building a quality fire department costs money, he said.
“If we want to stay competitive and get quality people, we have to pay for it,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Shannon also said a decision on who is promoted to captain, or how many people are promoted to captain, was a management decision and should not be dictated by a union in a labor contract.
Guido told council members they were flirting with fiscal disaster by not accepting the negotiated figure of 10 new captains over the next five years.
He said the firefighters union has the option of taking its case to the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations. It is possible, and even likely, Guido said, that the commission would find that 18 Bellevue firefighters are already essentially performing the duties of a fire captain and must immediately be paid a captain’s wage.
Elevating 10 firefighters to captain over the next five years, as negotiated, is a much better fiscal prospect than elevating 18 immediately, Guido said.
The department currently has 53 full-time sworn personnel and needs 25 more firefighters to be fully staffed, Guido said in December.
The fire chief said the proposed contract is based on pay and work duties in comparable fire departments. State law requires public agencies such as fire and police departments to maintain comparability with other, similar jurisdictions.
Nevertheless Cook, backed by Shannon and Moudry, asked Mangiamelli to take two to three more months to finalize a new contract and bring it back for reconsideration.
Mangiamelli said he planned to meet with City Council members as soon as possible and address their concerns, and possibly sit down with the union as well. That won’t take two to three months, he said.
“We will do what is necessary and hopefully we will achieve a positive outcome for the fire union and the community,” he said.