Fire board debates possible pay increase

Matt Algarin

As the Destin Fire Control District’s Board of Fire Commissioners works through its proposed budget for the 2015 fiscal year, its employees may see a bump in pay.

Due to additional savings from the district’s voluntary separation incentive program, a 3 percent raise/cost of living adjustment has been included in the early budget.

While the line item is not set in stone yet, there was plenty of debate about whether or not the increase should be given or not during the board’s Aug. 12 meeting and budget workshop.

 As part of the district’s voluntary separation program, seven firefighters agreed to leave the district for a lump sum payment of $50,000, plus an additional $1,000 for each year they served after becoming a vested employee at 7 years.

Fire Chief Kevin Sasser told the board they needed a total of five firefighters to accept the program so they could balance the budget, but they ended up having a total of seven agree to separate, which created more than $100,000 in additional funding, based on a variety of factors such as insurance savings and hiring back positions at lower wages.

Commissioner Rick Moore wasn’t a fan of the proposal. He told his colleagues that this would “send a bad message” to the public, given the recent separation program.

“My personal opinion, I think that we just need to put it back in the general fund,” he said. “I think it’s a bad precedent that we are setting giving a pay raise, when we have (union) negotiations next year. It’s something we need to hold off, till it’s negotiated.”

But Commissioner Hillary Anderson didn’t see it that way.

“I feel completely opposite,” she said. “Three percent, for not having a raise in the past five, six years… I would think of it more as a cost of living increase.”

Given that personnel have had to take on “extra responsibilities,” Anderson said the increase was “well deserved.”

As they talked about the pros and cons, the talks kept focusing on “public perception” and how the possible increase would be viewed.

“I can see what the public is going to think” Commissioner Mike Buckingham said. “It’s something we really need to think about.”

Sasser said it wasn’t easy for him to approach the board with the idea, but it was something he thought was warranted given the moral at the station and the hard work the firefighters are putting forth.

“I see it wearing on them, and if the board see fit, I figure we would do something for them,” he said.

Commissioners will further discuss the potential cost of living increase, as well as other budget related items during their next budget workshop slated for Aug. 26 at 5:30 p.m. at Station 9 on Airport Road.