In a sign that Hollywood’s finances are looking healthier, city commissioners Wednesday began considering a pay package for firefighters that could include 24.5 percent raises and a jump of almost $14,000 in starting salaries.
On Wednesday, the commission gave initial approval to the retirement portion of the new package.
The commission is set to approve the rest of the contract, which will cost the city $4.6 million, at its July 3 meeting.
“It’s about time,” said Commissioner Peter Hernandez, who added that the new deal was a step toward restoring some of the pay and benefits taken away when the city declared financial urgency in 2010 and 2011. “We are not near where we were, but, frankly, we can’t afford that. I am glad we have made progress, though.”
In 2010, Hollywood faced financial issues because of plunging property values, which brought in less in property taxes than in previous years. The city declared financial urgency, which allowed it to reopen union contracts, and to reduce salaries and benefits.
In 2011, facing a $38 million budget shortfall, the city again declared financial urgency. Contracts were reopened yet again, and further cuts were made. That fall, voters approved a referendum to slash pension benefits.
Firefighters saw their salaries reduced by 12.5 percent, and overtime pay was cut.
Among the provisions of the new firefighters contract: Firefighters’ starting pay would be bumped from $32,884 to $46,305, bringing the city more in line with other agencies; depending on rank and years of service, raises will range from 11.5 percent to 24.5 percent; and there will be a new post-retirement program that allows union members to receive a lump sum payment followed by reduced lifetime pension checks.
The proposed contract is the result of 18 months of negotiations.
“We started miles apart,” said Capt. Bill Huddleston, president of the Hollywood Professional Firefighters Union.
Huddleston called the contract “a very big step in the right direction,” and said the road to an agreement was a result of a “lot of concessions” and hard work.
The fire union ratified the contract this past weekend.
City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark said Wednesday the city could afford the new contract because it has “come up with creative solutions that would work for the firefighters while not jeopardizing the city’s financial health. .. .
“We are doing things different now than we did before,” she said, adding that the city is going from recession to recovery. “Revenues are up and expenses are down.”
Hollywood is still negotiating with the police and general employees unions.
After declaring they were at an impasse in October 2012, the police union recently agreed to meet with Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez to work out a contract. The most recent contract proposal would cost the city $5 million.
Mayor Peter Bober said he was pleased with the firefighters’ contract and with the city’s “cautious approach” to restoring benefits.
“It’s an enormous sign that the commission is serious about rebuilding some of the bridges that were burned,” he said.