Fire ballot drama, continued
All right, I’m just gonna come out and state the obvious: This Island’s got more than its fair share of compelling political drama. But for my (tax) money, one of the hottest ones running right now is the drama between Alameda’s city leaders and our firefighters.
A quick recap: Late last year, the City Council declined to continue to fund the Fire Department’s ongoing overtime costs, forcing rotating truck and ambulance company brownouts this year. Fire management said we’d probably be mostly OK; firefighters said our safety would be jeopardized by what ended up pretty much being de facto staff reductions. But the city’s leaders didn’t budge. So the firefighters put together a ballot measure that would require the city to maintain shift staffing levels where they had been before the overtime cuts. And they got nearly a quarter of the city’s registered voters to sign a petition to put it on the ballot. The city responded by suing the firefighters union and the local residents who put the petition forward, in an effort to stop the measure (though in a recent court filing, their attorney said they expect to certify the measure for the ballot this week, so they’ll probably drop their case).
Tonight the council is set to officially place the measure on the ballot, but with a twist: They’ll also consider putting their own measure on the ballot that would require the council or voters to find a way to pay for measures like the firefighters’ – which would effectively stall the firefighters’ measure until, say, voters passed a parcel tax to pay for it.
If both measures were to pass – and I’m not sure yet when the council measure would go on the ballot if they opt to put it there – the council would have up to a year to put a funding mechanism for the firefighters’ measure on the ballot.
Representatives from the firefighters’ union had no comment Sunday. The staff report on the ballot measure says if passed, the firefighters’ staffing measure would cost the city about $4.1 million a year to implement (which would net out to a $200 per head parcel tax to you and me).
Incidentally, city management and the firefighters have come to an agreement on a new contract. The last one expired in January 2008.
The council is being asked to okay a contract that has no wage increases for two years and no changes in benefits. Under the new contract, the firefighters will sit down to talk with city management about making changes to their post-employment benefits (the police agreed to include the same proviso in their recently inked contract.
The new contract expires in January 2010 – about four months after it was signed. (Sigh.)
Oh, and did I mention the council is set to adopt a budget tonight? More to come on that.