Although it took longer than the union that represents the fire department protecting most of Metairie and Old Jefferson would have liked, Jefferson Parish President John Young on Wednesday recommended that the Parish Council adopt a new pay plan that would result in raises for about 250 firefighters.
Council members Ben Zahn, Paul Johnston and Cynthia Lee-Sheng in turn introduced the revised East Bank Consolidated Fire Department pay plan for consideration. The council will be able to vote on it at its June 10 meeting.
“We’re happy that the parish president reached this conclusion,” said firefighters union leader Robert Burkett, who last month expressed displeasure that the plan had not yet been adopted. “The firefighter personnel is certainly deserving of the new pay plan, and we look forward to the opportunity for the council to review and adopt it.”
Young’s administration and firefighters agreed on the terms of a revised pay plan back in December. Exact figures haven’t been provided, but the plan calls for a first-year firefighter’s base pay to jump from about $22,950 to about $25,035, not counting state supplemental and guaranteed overtime compensation.
Officials have said the price of implementing the new pay plan will be approximately $3.5 million the first year and about $1 million annually afterward.
Complications surfaced when — at the request of the union — the Jefferson Parish Fire Civil Service Board solicited Louisiana State Examiner Robert Lawrence’s office to study whether some 30 parish employees who perform firefighting-related duties should be classified as members of the East Bank Consolidated Fire Department. If those employees are found to belong to the Fire Department, the new pay plan would apply to them, increasing the overall cost to the parish.
The union had been seeking that kind of study since at least 2013, officials said.
At a council meeting last month, Young’s administration said that until that inquiry wrapped up, it might have no way of knowing how many more employees the new pay plan might apply to; how much it would require in total salary, benefits and retirement contributions; and whether the millage that funds the Fire Department’s operations could sustain that overall price. Therefore, the administration said, it could not yet present the new pay plan for consideration.
However, Young’s chief operating officer, Jennifer Van Vrancken Dwyer, said Wednesday that the administration had estimated how many positions the new pay plan would apply to and now felt comfortable recommending its adoption.
Dwyer said a financial analyst the parish tasked with finalizing all of the dollar figures had not quite finished doing that Wednesday.
Young, meanwhile, reiterated that his administration would exercise its right to appeal some of the state examiner’s findings in the courts if necessary.
Young said his administration would have liked a recommendation from the examiner’s office when the parish Fire Civil Service Board met Tuesday. But no one from Lawrence’s office was able to attend.
Burkett said the union hopes the examiner’s office will conclude its investigation before the end of the month. He said he didn’t believe any of the potential findings would produce “dramatic” changes, but he acknowledged the new pay plan may ultimately be more expensive to the parish than first predicted.
“If that’s (the finding) ... we don’t have the luxury of not following (it),” Burkett said. “If there’s additional cost, that’s the way it has to be.”