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Mission firefighters may see wage increase after next city council meeting

After several meetings and discussions on the issue, it looks like firefighters in the city of Mission may be seeing some raises soon.

The city council met for a workshop last Monday, and still did not have a consensus as to what would be done about potentially raising the wages of Mission firefighters. A collaborative meeting was then held at the city hall last Thursday including Mayor Armando O’caña, City Manager Martin Garza, council member Gus Martinez, Fire Chief Gilbert Sanchez and Firefighter Union leader Robert Lopez, with presentations of two proposals for how raised wages would be distributed.

City of Mission logoThe city found an extra $260,000 in the hotel/motel tax fund, which they will be using to fund the wage increases.

“What happened there was some furniture that was purchased through the bond proceeds that were left behind after the construction of the event center,” Garza said. “Instead of using the line item that was budgeted to purchase that, those funds for those purchases were made through bond money, leaving behind $260,000 in the general fund.”

At previous meetings held on the issue, the mayor and council were unsure where money could be taken from to give the fire department raises.

While the $260,000 hasn’t been officially allotted to the fire department, the city told them that was the amount the department would have to work with. Both the mayor and the city manager were surprised to find the excess funds in the budget.

“We have not taken any formal action as a council,” O’caña said. “In fact, I was very surprised because I wasn’t even notified that they had found the money.”

“Neither was I,” Martinez added. “But after so many of these workshops, discussions and negotiations, it was clear that if some money could be found, we would consider allotting it to the firefighters if we could come up with an agreeable plan to disperse it.”

Lopez presented two plans, both excluding First Responder Training (ECA), but including Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) pay and training, as well as education and longevity parity with the police department. The first plan exceeded the $260,000 limit with a 3 percent raise in the firefighter position and marked raises for engineer, lieutenant, captain and deputy chief positions.

The second plan fell just short of the $260,000, with similar EMT pay and training and education/longevity parity, but with a 2 percent raise for the firefighters and marked raises for the other supervisory positions.

O’caña did not want to forego the ECA training, so they then listened to the plan drawn up by Chief Sanchez and the assistant fire chief. Sanchez also presented a plan that worked within the $260,000 budget, but without raises for the firefighter cadets or entry level firefighters.

All other positions in Sanchez’s plan would receive raises of some sort, and it included seniority pay, certification pay, EMS certification pay and assignment pay for the civil servants, as well as coverage of certifications and training. He noted that the plan by the union did not include the assistant chief, who does not have overtime pay like the deputy, so with the union plan the deputy chief could potentially make more money that the assistant based on overtime alone.

Sanchez and Lopez both said that the union and department supervisors have met several times to discuss the potential plans, and have been in full cooperation.

“I think the relationship between the administration and the union has been the strongest and most successful since I’ve been here compared to former administrators,” Lopez said.

Garza said he felt the chief’s plan was well-balanced.

“It accommodates the needs of the separation that the main concern was in the firefighter’s association,” Garza said. “At the same time, to me, we’re giving back something to the community where we’re introducing certification to all our firefighters, and not only does that help them [the firefighters] in that incentive, but it brings a service to our community.”

At the end of the meeting, O’caña noted that he would have liked to use some of that $260,000 toward making his plan of increasing wages for city workers to $15 per hour happen.

“I didn’t even get a chance to look at that, because it was already brought to the workshop [for the firefighter wage increases held last Monday],” O’caña said. “I would have loved to work a parity for employees that work in a particular area that are going to give up their expertise and go to another city to apply for another position, because there’s disparities in their pay.”

“That’s happening outside of the fire department and outside the police department,” O’caña added. “It is what it is. My platform was that I was going to raise the minimum wage for the city of Mission from $8.50 to $15. Obviously I didn’t get a chance to do it, because I was told there was no money.”

The mayor, city manager and council member agreed with the chief’s plan, and it will be presented to the council, who will vote on the potential wage increases at tomorrow’s city council meeting at 5:30 p.m.

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