Task force works to save jobs

OKEECHOBEE — Members of the fire merge “task force” have been working diligently to not only come up with an agreement for the county to perform fire services for the city, but also to ensure that city fire fighters are not hurt in the process. At the workshop on Thursday, June 25, they discussed what they thought might be the perfect solution. The county has already determined they will need seven additional employees if they begin doing the fire services for the city. They will pay the salaries of these seven employees. In addition, if the plan they propose were to be adopted, they would hire the remaining city firefighters, BUT the city would continue to pay their salaries until the county needed another firefighter at which time, the county would begin paying that salary.

Everyone knows it is not the job of the employer to find the employee a new job when the employee is let go, no matter what the reason, but the fate of the firefighters has been a matter of great importance to everyone involved since the beginning. Councilwoman Monica Clark called it a deal breaker for her. Mayor Dowling Watford said, “The city appreciates the service our fire employees have given our citizens and realizes the effect this contract could have on their families. Many of the employees have invested many years with the city.”

Commissioner Burroughs said, “I view my job on this subject is to investigate and develop a potential solution so it is fair for all parties concerned whether it be a city resident or a county resident or a member of the firefighter family.”

The task force, made up of Mayor Watford, Commissioner Burroughs, the city and county attorneys and the city and county administrators, held two meetings over the last few weeks. Their sole purpose was to work together on an agreement that would be agreeable to both sides. In the end, they all felt happy with what they came up with and decided not to discuss it with their individual boards at their next meetings but to wait until the joint workshop on the 25th so they could all discuss it together.

Some of the things they discussed were:
• The city desires to use the current county fire assessment rate as the basis for fee calculation for the first year.
• The city would pay to be included in the county’s current fire assessment study to determine the true fire assessment rate for city properties.
• The agreement would be based on current services provided by the county.
a) Fire suppression b) Rescue Operations c) Mass Casualty d) Incident Response e) Major Disaster f) Fire Prevention
• Fees (inspections, etc) will go to the city to offset costs of services rendered.
• Equipment (Fire trucks, bunker gear, etc.) will be provided to county at no cost.
• County will maintain vehicles at no charge to city
• City will allow county to store fire reserve apparatus at existing city facility.
• City desires to have a five-year agreement
• Performance metrics to be determined after software package has been implemented by county.
• City would pay for people to attend paramedic school (current and transferred employees)
• County has proposed taking seven people (six paramedics and one inspector)
• County could take on additional people and use them as attrition presents itself
• City would pay for the additional people until attrition takes place
• City Pension Options
• Process to handle salary, vacation-sick accruals/current balances have been agreed to by both administrators.

Although both sides still need to discuss all these points with their own boards at their next meetings and not everyone was happy with the proposed plan, there was a feeling that things are moving closer to a resolution.

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