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Council approves agreement, reinstates 3 firefighters

DeKALB – Three firefighters will be rehired after being laid off more than a month ago, bringing fire department operations back to normal and bringing about $350,000 in savings over the next two years.

"This has been a long and arduous process," Mayor Kris Povlsen said shortly before the 6-0 vote Monday night. Third Ward Alderman Victor Wogen was absent.

The mayor also thanked the firefighters' union for continuing to meet, often behind closed doors.

Although these discussions were not in the public eye, Povlsen said "the firefighters knew, along with the city council, that we would come to an agreement some day."

The settlement includes a wage freeze, but not in the time frame that city leaders had originally asked for.

The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1236, along with three other employee groups, had been asked to take a wage freeze for one year, from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, in order to save the city thousands of dollars. Two weeks into the new fiscal year and without a deal in sight, three firefighters were let go on July 15.

However, negotiations continued, and city leaders have now agreed to a plan that is nearly identical to the one firefighters offered prior to the layoffs. Firefighters will take an 11-month wage freeze beginning the pay cycle of Sept. 6. The wage increase that went into effect July 1 will be rescinded.

Firefighters will still get two raises over the next two years, but at different intervals: They'll see a 4-percent raise in August 2010 and another 4-percent raise in February 2011.

In addition to offering jobs back to the laid-off firefighters, the city has agreed to hire one more to replace a firefighter who has since resigned.

Though that position will be refilled, the city is still technically under a hiring freeze. This may bring additional staffing concerns to the fire department, which is facing three possible retirements.

These positions would not be refilled because of the city's attrition policy, which leaves vacancies through retirement or resignation unfilled.

There will be no layoffs through the rest of the contract, which expires June 30, 2011.

Since the layoffs, the fire department has had to revamp its structure in order to operate with less. An engine was pulled from Station 2, and the minimum daily staffing level dropped from 13 to 12.

Daily staffing will be back at 13, Fire Chief Bruce Harrison said, and the engine will be back in service at Station 2. He said all three men could be back to work as soon as a week, though they have 30 days to respond to the offer.

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