FORT MOHAVE — The Fort Mojave Mesa Fire District board said Thursday night that it was choosing to save firefighter jobs as it voted to reduce contributions to firefighter retirement and eliminate the uniform allowance.
Board chairman Robert Elliott said the two moves could save the department more than $200,000 a year, as the district looks for ways to live with a shortfall that could approach $1 million next fiscal year.
The decision to stop paying the employee portion of the retirement contribution met with dissent from members of the audience, who said that the move amounted to breach of contract.
Renee Bodkin, who was elected to the board in November and will be seated next month, asked why the matter couldn’t be postponed until the new board took office.
Elliott responded that a decision on stopping the contributions already had been tabled twice. Board member Allen Stout said the delay would mean the district would pay out another $30,000 in retirement contributions and have to eliminate a firefighter’s job. Board member Dana Scudder said that waiting until the contract expires in July could eventually mean five to 10 lost jobs.
Union representative John Kish said the retirement benefit cut was the best of a number of bad options.
“It’s pretty well understood that we’re in a budgetary crisis,” Kish said. “And savings need to be enacted to save firemen’s jobs.”
Kish said that he’d hope that other additional budget trimming would be done in other areas, since the firefighters have made concessions.
“It’s no big surprise that the union’s upset about the breach of contract,” he said.
Board member Rod Burgess said the union agreed when the contract was signed that it would be reviewed if the district experienced a budget shortfall. He said the fire district already levies the highest property tax allowed.
The motion passed 4-1, with Barbie Barrett casting the “no” vote.
The district has been giving each firefighter a check for $1,000 a year to cover uniform replacement Elliott said. Thursday’s vote means uniforms will be replaced as needed. He said the district should save money because the average firefighter doesn’t spend $1,000 to replace workwear in a year.
The audience’s loudest catcalls came when the board weighed an item related to paying a Denver law firm $6,058 for legal services. After Elliott said in response to a question from Barrett that he hadn’t been told what the legal bill would be for advice from an attorney with Sherman & Howard, audience members suggested that he — not the taxpayers — should pay the bill.
The legal advice related to demotions, terminations, and “battalion chief issues,” and an opinion letter.
That motion passed 4-0, with Barrett abstaining.
The board also voted to seek bids for the possible purchase of a type 2 ambulance. Acting Chief Bret Scholz said the ambulance, smaller and more efficient that a standard model, might be obtained for $50,000 to $60,000. He said the department would be looking at a demo model.