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updated: 9/4/2013 11:54 AM

New Naperville fire contract gives raises, retirement incentives

Firefighters to get 6 percent hike over 3 years in Naperville

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The employees who fight fires and respond to medical emergencies in Naperville now are operating under a new contract that gives them 6 percent raises in base pay over three years and encourages eligible employees to retire by Jan. 5, 2014.

The Naperville City Council approved a contract with the firefighters union representing 184 employees with an 8-1 vote Tuesday night.

The contract also includes step raises of a maximum of 6 percent for employees who have been with the department from one to seven years, and it adds new yearly payments for employees who hold associate's, bachelor's or master's degrees. Increases in the payments firefighters receive when they hit 10, 15 or 20 years of service, and increases in payments for lieutenants and captains who maintain their paramedic's license, also are written into the contract.

Councilman Grant Wehrli cast the dissenting vote, saying the education pay and increased payments for experience and paramedic's licenses made the contract "too rich."

"I'm not underappreciative of the fine work they do," Wehrli said about the city's firefighters. "But math is math. We have to manage and we have to keep the city's finances in line."

The additional payments and step raises included in the contract increase the city's costs a total of $1.3 million over three years, but that increase represents a small amount of the fire department's roughly $32 million annual budget, Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said.

Puknaitis said he expects that freezing the pay of any new firefighters hired in the next three years, and offering retirement incentives for up to 12 firefighters to end their Naperville careers, will provide savings to help offset the additional expenses.

At least four union members are expected to retire by the end of the year, but the incentives offered in the new contract -- either one year of city-paid medical insurance or one month of salary -- could entice up to eight more to turn in their gear.

"We wanted to give some sort of an incentive to make that decision and move on with that latter part of their life by retiring," said fire Lt. Dan Smith, the union's president. "And that way we can get new blood into the department to mentor and groom the way Naperville wants."

Differences between the salary and pension of a new employee and an employee of retirement age with at least 20 years' experience will help the city save $88,500 for each firefighter above the expected four who retire, according to Puknaitis.

"When we look at this entire contract, we look at it as a plus for the city, for the firefighters that protect this city," Puknaitis said.

"We will work hard in the future to keep costs low and continue to remain very efficient."

The city and the firefighters union negotiated the new contract in 90 days without the involvement of attorneys for either side, which Smith said saved the union at least $15,000 in legal fees. The pact is retroactive to May 1 and lasts until April 30, 2016.

The union's membership approved it by a nearly unanimous 100-1 vote, the most resounding nod to any contract in Smith's time.

"Overall I think members are going to be very happy with it," he said.

Raises: Union approved pact 100-1

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