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The Journal Gazette

January 11, 2017 1:03 AM

Retired firefighters won't be reimbursed

Council upholds mayor's veto, 5-4

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

In a 5-4 vote Tuesday, the Fort Wayne City Council narrowly upheld Mayor Tom Henry’s veto of an ordinance to adjust the deductible for retired city firefighters.

Two Republican councilmen joined the body’s two Democrats in opposing the override. Councilmen Jason Arp, R-4th, and John Crawford, R-at large, joined Geoff Paddock, D-5th, and Glynn Hines, D-6th, in opposing the measure. Paddock voted in favor of the ordinance at the council’s Dec. 13 meeting. 

The ordinance, which was sponsored by Councilmen Paul Ensley, R-1st, Tom Didier, R-3rd, and Tom Freistroffer, R-at large, would reimburse half of the insurance deductible for about 85 retired firefighters in 2017 and 2018. Rates for the lowest-deductible plan doubled from $600 in 2016 to $1,200 in 2017.

Much of the concern was that firefighters were not included in meetings regarding the change, Jeremy Bush, president of the city’s firefighters union, told the council last month. 

“Because of the mayor’s veto message, because of the strong words that were brought forward and because of the opinion of the city attorney, I believe that by supporting the ordinance and therefore then supporting the override, I would be doing more to disrespect the collective bargaining process than to add to it,” Paddock said, noting he would support making the change for future contracts.

Crawford voted against the override, noting that retired firefighters are still not required to pay any insurance premiums until they reach the age of 65. 

“The only thing that has changed is the deductible is going to change, and the way the agreement reads is they have the option to have the lowest-deductible plan offered by the city,” Crawford said. “It did not say the deductible would never change.”

Supporting the override, Crawford said, would also mean treating firefighters differently than police officers and other city employees, who may feel cheated by the council’s actions.

While explaining his vote to override, Freistroffer said it was unfair that the firefighters were not notified of the change ahead of time. 

“I think it’s only fair to the firefighters in this respect because in their agreement, they should have been notified,” Freistroffer said. 

Support for Henry’s veto centered around the claim that allowing the council to circumvent collective bargaining undermined process and set a dangerous precedent for future issues. But Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, said he does not believe the change was a simple mistake and contended that Henry’s administration was guilty of undermining collective bargaining throughout the process.

“This collective bargaining agreement was negotiated with the full intent to eliminate this benefit from the retired firefighters, they were not given notice and (council was) given a budget with that in mind, that the new insurance rates were going to be with the elimination of this benefit,” Barranda said.

“I’ll applaud (City Attorney Carol) Helton for the fact that this was a very shrewd negotiation tactic. She pulled one over on the heads of the union, there was a part of the contract that allowed them to do it and she got one by them.”

Although Barranda applauded Helton’s work as an attorney, he stressed that the impact of uphlolding the veto would affect people, specifically residents on fixed incomes. 

Although the ordinance ultimately failed, the insurance benefit could be added once the firefighters’ contract is up for renegotiation in 2018. 

dgong@jg.net