Long Beach council OKs firefighter pension reform deal

LONG BEACH, CA &#8211 The Long Beach City Council voted 8-0 Tuesday for a firefighter pension reform agreement that saves $35.9 million over the next 10 years and reinstates four-responder engine staffing.

Councilwoman Rae Gabelich was absent.

Though the deal restores four-person engine staffing, which had been cut to three on some engines, it also gives Long Beach’s fire chief latitude to alter the department’s deployment model during “emergency circumstances.”

Contract language defines those emergency circumstances as “a regional disaster, catastrophe or declaration of fiscal emergency.”

The measured passed with no public comment.

Councilman James Johnson thanked firefighters who he said made “serious sacrifices.”

“I think this is a great accomplishment, to have pension reform,” said Johnson.

Tuesday’s sealing of the contract changes comes after weeks of negotiations.

Talks were tied to budget discussions as Long Beach balanced a $20.3 million deficit largely on public safety, which takes up about 70 percent of the general fund. The budget took effect Oct. 1.

Four-crew fire engine staffing was a key roadblock to getting firefighters to agree to concessions.

Fire Chief Alan Patalano, tasked with cutting approximately $5 million from the department’s budget, proposed shrinking crews on most engines to three firefighters – a level that rank and file said flouted a “two-in, two-out” safety standard for suppressing fires. The move would have saved about $3 million.

To restore staffing, the city will use $970,000 in first-year savings from firefighters, upping their retirement contributions by 7 percent, and $925,000 drawn from surplus city oil revenue and $1.3 million from shifting funds within the department budget.

The fire union also accepted reduced benefits for new hires, who will receive 2 percent of salary as pension for every year of service while being able to retire at age 50. By law, current fighters can’t cut their own benefits and will continue to get 3 percent annually and will be eligible to retire at 50.

Rounding out the changes, the city will advance contractual raises of 6 percent, effective Oct. 1, then increase salaries 1 percent on Oct. 1, 2014. The union contract will also be extended two years, to Sept. 30, 2016.

In September, Long Beach police officers agreed to similar retirement reform, cutting at least $69 million in city financial obligation off the books through 2022.

From The Press-Telegram.