Approval of three-year pay schedule to be considered by MFPD directors

‘No one will take a pay cut,’ White says of proposed plan

By MIKE ANTHONY

Approval of a three-year salary schedule for Mehlville Fire Protection District employees is scheduled to be considered next week by the district’s Board of Directors.

The proposed salary schedule will be considered when the Board of Directors meets at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 30, in the conference room of the district’s headquarters at 11020 Mueller Road, Green Park.

During a Dec. 17 board meeting, Chairman Aaron Hilmer discussed the salary proposal, noting it had been formulated by Administrative Chief Fire Officer Tim White and Chief Jim Silvernail with some input from him.

The pay schedule for 2010 through 2012 is designed to correct a salary structure that is “broken,” White said last week.

“… Currently as the pay structure stands right now, we have the potential for over 45 pay grades within the scale for firefighters and paramedics … That’s what we’re dealing with right now …,” he said. “The current board did not create this, but inherited (it) from previous boards throughout the years, who, with the help of the employees, created this system. Now it is my belief that the system is broken and I would like to propose a solution to that issue that within three years would provide substantial equilibrium …”

As proposed, the new pay structure would provide incentive as employees take on more responsibility and move up the career ladder, White said.

“Some people will get a raise and some people will not, but in this proposal no one will take a pay cut,” he said. “It was very important. I don’t think the board would be interested in any of the employees taking a salary (cut) because this is what we’re really taking about. Either you do it this way or you would have to start whittling back salaries … This is the alternative to that.”

Hilmer told the Call, “… When we first drew this up, in order to equalize things there would have been about 30 people who would have seen a pay cut anywhere between $500 to $5,000, and certainly we didn’t want to go down that path. So basically they’re what you’d call ‘grandfathered’ in. Their pay may not go up next year, but it’s not going to go down.

“One emphasis on there is a pretty good increase in the captains’ salaries … As we’re transforming Mehlville into a premier department, much more management is being asked, much more administration is being asked from the position of captain, so we wanted to have a differential there, a large differential,” he said.

White explained last week, “For over 30 years, the employees who were privates kept the captains’ pay at around a dollar an hour more than the privates had through negotiation by majority. It was wrong three decades ago and it is wrong now. My captains are held responsible for a myriad of things and the knowledge and skill that is required to fulfill that position should be rewarded with a salary that matches their managerial responsibilities. That is reflected in this pay scale I am proposing.”

Since taking office in April 2005, Hilmer and board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman have focused on hiring only firefighter/paramedics to improve service to residents.

White said Dec. 17, “In this, all straight firefighters’ salaries will be frozen for the next three years. All straight paramedics’ salaries will be frozen for the next three salaries. All longevity will be frozen at the current levels of 2009 and the scale will be eliminated. But I would like to bring back — that was negotiated out, which I always felt was unfair — and that is differential pay for employees who work out of classification. If you have an engineer, lead person, filling in for a captain while he is gone on vacation or on sick leave, he should make that captain’s salary …”

Administrative staff salaries under the proposed schedule “will reflect what the market demands,” White said. “But once again, no one will receive a pay cut. Some will get a raise and some will not.”

Noting the board will vote Dec. 30 on the proposed salary schedule, Hilmer said to Nick Fahs, president of Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, “… We could have a board meeting next week if you have some items you want to discuss about it …”

Hilmer told the Call he believes the proposed salary schedule will eliminate problems created by the old structure and outline a clear path for career advancement.

“… Because of the old longevity system — up to 9 percent of their base salary in longevity — people who were subordinates of people we recently promoted are making more than the people we promoted, creating a really bad environment,” he said. “So what this does is give people a clear path to the next three years. Does your path want to be at Mehlville or perhaps your path wants to be somewhere else? But we’re very clear. I think it’s great for administration and it’s great for the labor force …”’

Hilmer said at the meeting he believes the proposed salary schedule would provide the public with greater transparency about the district’s operating costs.

“… I’ve sat down with Chief Silvernail and Tim. One thing I’ve always kind of wanted to do here is I felt it was really confusing as far as when someone says: What does some-one make? I remember when even before I ran for the board, I came up here to get a copy of the then-MOU (memorandum of understanding) to see what do people make,” he said. “And I always remember when I asked about what does it cost per year for the district to contribute to the pension …, they said: Well, there’s not an actual number amount and they gave me some type of logarithmic algorithm actuarial report I was supposed to understand. At that time I couldn’t and that’s one thing that motivated me to want to do this to get an understanding of how much money was spent.

“… Something I’ve found when I’ve looked at a lot of different fire districts or other governmental entities, it’s very confusing to get a true idea of what someone makes …,” Hilmer said, citing such costs as pension contributions, clothing allowances, sick-day buy backs and holiday pay. “You never really know and you never get a straight answer. And I think one thing we’ve been able to do here is really clarify a lot of those things and so you can say the shroud was lifted …”

Under the proposed schedule, the total cost of salaries will increase by roughly $440,000 from 2010 to 2012 while pension contributions — ranging from 8 percent to 11 percent of gross wages based on years of service — will increase by roughly $69,000 during the same period.

As proposed, roughly $9.44 million will be spent on salaries and nearly $810,000 will be spent on pension contributions in 2010. In 2011, more than $9.6 million will be spent on salaries and nearly $845,000 will be spent on pension contributions. For 2012, more than $9.88 million will be spent on salaries and nearly $879,000 will be spent on pension contributions.

“I think it’s a tremendous commitment we’re making that by 2012 we’re spending over a half-a-million dollars more per year than we are now, but that’s the investment we feel we need to make to make Mehlville the premier district that we’re working on,” Hilmer told the Call.