Both Liberty Township officials and the township's firefighters see the recently extended contract with the firefighters' union as a win-win.

Both Liberty Township officials and the township’s firefighters see the recently extended contract with the firefighters’ union as a win-win.

The new contract will expire Nov. 1, 2014 and replaces a contract approved in September 2010, which would have expired Dec. 12, 2012.

Fiscal officer Mark Gerber said the new contract requires firefighters to pay increasing percentages of their contribution to the retirement fund, until reaching 10 percent in 2015.

By law, the township must pay an amount equal to 24 percent of a safety service worker’s pay to that service’s state retirement fund. The state requires the safety service worker to pay 10 percent toward that retirement, which the township has paid since 1994.

The firefighters also agreed to incrementally increase their contribution to health-insurance premiums. By 2015, the firefighters will contribute 20 percent. They currently contribute about 1 percent, Gerber said.

The employees also will contribute more to their health insurance deductible.

Union president and firefighter Chalaco Clark said union members responded to public concerns about medical insurance and pension contributions by agreeing to pay more than the 15-percent insurance contribution called for by Senate Bill 5. Voters overwhelmingly rejected Senate Bill 5 on Nov. 8.

“Senate Bill 5 made us sit down and negotiate and talk about what we can fix, and listen to society and what it wants us to do,” Clark said. “We wanted to make it feel like everyone was getting something out of it.”

To ease the sting of the contract concessions, trustees approved larger wage increases. Starting in 2012, fire department employees will get 6.5-percent base pay increases each year of the contract, instead of the previous contract’s 2-percent increase.

The contract covers 48 employees.

Some department employees work 56 hours a week, 24 hours on duty and 48 hours off, putting in 2,900 hours annually. Others work 40 hours a week, 2,080 hours a year, unless overtime is required.

Those working 56-hour weeks and the fire inspector each have four step increases with varying percentages of increase which occur after a year of service.

Those step increases range from 2.786 percent for a step two to three 56-hour lieutenant to 15.589 percent increase from a step one to a step two 56-hour firefighter.

At the end of every contract cycle, beginning salaries for all positions increase. For instance, in 2011, a step-one 56-hour firefighter received as entry level pay $41,491 annually. In 2014, that entry level pay will be $46,950.

Clark said the increase in entry- level wage keeps the township competitive in hiring new people and compensates people in the field for the ever-increasing skills they have to have.

Gerber said the township negotiated the extended contract without the use of attorneys until everything was hammered out.

He said the 2010 negotiations were long and painful and cost the township about $65,000.

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