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County executive offers plan for firefighter raises, new positions

The Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services will offer a 25-person recruit class this fall, and firefighters who qualify will receive a pay raise on Jan. 1.

After a negotiated agreement between the county and the career firefighters union fell apart following an unfavorable vote from the union, County Executive Jan Gardner (D) announced a plan Thursday to reallocate approximately $1.3 million for the Division of Fire and Rescue Services.

"This plan makes progress to address several legitimate needs," Gardner said.

The plan is three-pronged:

  • The county will fund a wage, benefit and workload study to collect data on how the county stacks up with neighboring jurisdictions on firefighter pay to use in the next round of negotiations.

  • The Division of Fire and Rescue Services will offer a 25-person recruit class to fill 13 vacant positions and add 12 new positions — six of which will be used to address leave impact, and six to address ambulance staffing at three stations.

  • Effective Jan. 1, employees who qualify will receive a step increase on the current salary pay scale.

Under the agreement, the firefighters union originally agreed upon, the county would have provided a two-step increase for qualifying firefighters on the pay scale, and an "anniversary-based" step increase for the roughly 100 employees who were hired on or after Nov. 30, 2015, and were not yet eligible for a step increase, Gardner said. A step increases averages out to about a 3.5 percent raise, Gardner said.

But the new agreement also restructured the holiday pay plan for Fire and Rescue Services employees, which Gardner said was proposed by the union, and would have been used to fund "a significant portion" of the second step increase.

Gardner said she suspected members of the firefighters union were not amenable to the holiday pay restructuring.

"But the average salary increase [even with the holiday pay restructure] would have been more than a step, and more than any other employee group was provided in the county," Gardner said.

Gardner said she was disappointed with the "unprofessional behavior on social media" from members of the career firefighters union, and stated she felt it was a violation of trust, and the union was intentionally spreading misinformation.

Over the last month, the union has made several posts on its official Facebook page criticizing Gardner for "punishing the career firefighters for not agreeing to the theft of $726,000 in benefits," while other county employees received raises.

The union changed its tune, however, on Friday morning after Gardner's announcement. The union put out a statement saying it applauded Gardner for reopening the lines of communication and listening to members' concerns.

"While yesterday's announcement is only a small piece of the puzzle, we look forward to working with the county executive on providing a better service for the hard-working taxpayers who call our county home, while ensuring our valuable firefighters have the resources and support they need to keep our community safe," the statement read.

Follow Allen Etzler on Twitter: @AllenWEtzler.

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