Firefighter pact could mean even greater savings: Solomon

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Mayor Joseph Solomon said Wednesday he wouldn’t be surprised if by the time a fiscal note is prepared on a tentative three-year firefighters’ contract agreement, it shows more savings than the “revenue neutral” plan it is being touted as.

“We highlighted at a minimum what the savings were…tried to take a conservative approach on that. Don’t be surprised if there’s going to be maybe more of an increased benefit cost-wise,” he said.

Later in the interview, Solomon said, “I’ve done it my way. My way is something that has been unheard of and hasn’t occurred in 20 years…For the next three years, it’s cost neutral. I’m very proud of a neutral cost three-year contract…I put that up against any other community or any other individual, even in the private sector. There’s no cost increase. There’s over a $450,000 savings in the first year.”

That’s not the way some people see the agreement as based on the administration’s press release and what’s been reported.

City Council President Steve Merolla said Wednesday the issue for him is not salary increases – the agreement calls for no increase the first year and two-percent increases in each of the next two years – but rather whether the contract addresses the future costs of retiree benefits that are consuming more and more of the operating budget to the detriment of infrastructure improvements, services and higher taxes.

Ken Block, a former Republican candidate for governor, Warwick businessman and critic of generous firefighter benefits, was especially critical of the administration’s intent to drop the appeal of the arbitration award finding firefighters hired after July 1, 2015 are not part of the Tier II pension plan applied to police and municipal employees. Under the tentative agreement, firefighters hired after July 1, 2019 would be in the Tier II plan with its reduced benefit package.

“The cost of this is way more than $2.8 million,” he said. “It doesn’t include future costs.”

Block called the agreement a “complete capitulation” to the union. He contends gains touted by the city are “stuff nibbled away while they willingly gave away” much more.

Rob Cote, who has done an extensive review of pension and post-employment legacy costs and presented his findings at a public meeting at the library, likewise was critical of the agreement to drop the appeal of the arbitration ruling. As the city has lost the ruling, he questioned what more could they lose by pursuing court action.

So far, however, the tentative agreement hasn’t been made public or provided to the council that will get to vote on it.

Solomon said Wednesday the agreement and an accompanying fiscal note would be made well in advance to council consideration. In addition, once ratified, he said the agreement would be available for public review.

“We did that with police, we did that with municipal, we’re going to do that with fire. If it’s ratified by the council, it will be executed in the same manner and it will be a public document on file in the clerk’s office,” he said.

In addition to new provisions of the contract, Solomon said the administration went through the entire contract cleaning up ambiguous language and terminology.

“I am very, very proud of what we were able to accomplish, and it’s just the beginning because I think it establishes a direction of the city and its employees working together to address a lot of the issues that have to be addressed to sustain ourselves on both ends. And I think that’s important, and it also sets the tone or gives ideas for future contract negotiations,” Solomon said.

If approved, for the first time the agreement would create a municipal OPEB trust fund that would be funded by firefighters hired after July 1, 2019. Under the proposal, the new hires would pay 2 percent of their salary to the fund. On retirement, the money would be used to offset the cost of health care and other benefits exclusive of their pension. According to the city’s calculations, the fund would pay for 27 percent of the cost of the benefits. The taxpayers would cover the balance.

Under the agreement, firefighters would give up two paid personal days, one holiday and four sick days for a total of 16 sick days. They would also agree to a two-year period between the elevation in grades between a starting Grade 3 and Grade 2 and Grade 2 and Grade 1. Currently, starting firefighters move through the grades annually. The agreement would also establish a 24-hour shift without altering the current 42-hour workweek.

Asked why the city would drop its appeal of the Tier II arbitration award at a potential cost of $2.8 million, Solomon said, “I don’t remember what the figure was. There was a cost involved, and that’s a cost that we’re going to have to sustain. But going forward, that issue has been resolved. All new hires will be paying in more, all new hires will be working longer before they qualify for benefits.”

As for the issue of legacy costs, the mayor said, “Those are all predicated on assumptions. A lot of those assumptions have been eliminated with this new contract that results in a cost reduction, if you base it on the assumptions some were basing it on. No one can predict the future, but you can be assured that the future’s not going to be how things existed in the past. It is in flux, it is changing, and it’s being done through negotiations to address what financial demands may be required in the future, to mitigate those demands or mitigate those costs.”

Solomon reiterated his confidence in the agreement and what it means for the city and his appreciation to those who put it together.

“It shows a willingness to work together, and that’s the direction that I plan on approaching with every bargaining group that I have to deal with. And I hope they share the same attitude,” he said.

Block was pleased to learn that Solomon intends to make the tentative agreement public before the council meeting.

“If it is released days in advance, that’s a huge positive step for the city,” he said. “It should happen. I’ll throw tons of roses at this administration.”

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Quid Pro Joe

Lifetime healthcare was given away by former Mayor Avedisian less than 20 years ago. Prior to that the municipal unions received the benefit. Since that time the unfunded liability has grown to $400 million. Contrast that to the school department unfunded healthcare liability of $50 million. The Warwick School Department retiree healthcare benefit structure should be the model used for all city employees.

With the new buzz word in Washington politics being Quid Pro Quo, Mayor Solomon has followed the Avedisian model of seeking a Quid Pro Quo from the Warwick unions by providing these million dollar retirement benefits in exchange for supporting his re-election. Take a look at who attended his last fund raiser for proof.

Word on the street is that Joe even used Quid Pro Quo when he promised some council members plum committee assignments and other perks for friend and family when he was acting mayor in exchange that in order to help him get the union support he needed to defeat Sue Steinhouse, those council members ratify the 2018 Police and municipal contracts. He also promised that he would re-open those contracts after he was elected to reform some of the benefits he knew were extreme. That never happened.

So is it any surprise that Joe is proposing this contract for the Firefighters. Too bad we didn't have a strong opposition party in charge of the council that would be willing to investigate are own Quid Pro JOE scandal in Warwick.

Thursday, November 21
Look the other way

Joe....you have to be kidding. You damn well know this contract is back loaded. It's much more than $2.8 million in future yrs the taxpayers will be squeezed.. You ran as the candidate who was going to clean up Avedisian's mess but you have become the enabler who has increased it exponentially.

Solomon is a DISGRACE !!!!

Thursday, November 21
spider rico

hi stacia

Thursday, November 21
SaltyJake

And what, if any, of this applies to the Fire Chief??

Thursday, November 21
Robert

The Fire Chief could care less if Warwick burns. All the Chief cares about is getting $$$$$

Thursday, November 21
Robert

The Fire Chief could care less if Warwick burns. All the Chief cares about is getting $$$$$

Thursday, November 21
Jimmy

What does any of this have to do with the Chief?

Thursday, November 21
Futureofwarwick

I hope this means Mayor Solomon will hire off the current list! I know a lot of men and women on that list are eager to start their career in the fire service.

Thursday, November 21
Warwick Voter

That current list is basically gone. No one will be hired off it. The King won’t hire off an Avadesian list. Your crazy if you think he will.

Thursday, November 21
Daydreambeliever

Why is the Beacon continually asking Block anything ?

Regardless of what any union in this city does in regards to cuts or savings will never be enough.

I don’t see why anyone brings up legitimate points when the squad will constantly disagree. It’s a cycle that repeats repeats repeats.

As for the list set to expire in January 2020 after sitting idle for 2 years. Sorry for who ever is on it but as a previous comment mentioned it’s an Avedesian list and Solomon owes a lot of favors so it will be his list and with his cast of characters on the next one.

Thursday, November 21
Please

Daydreambeliever

It's not the squad that's got the problem.....it's the WFD that does. The WFD will never admit they have abused the taxpayers for yrs., they acted like thugs numerous times at council meeting, they tried to get someone fired for speaking at a council meeting etc.

The WFD deserves to be taken to task.

The WFD thinks they're entitled and the certainly aren't.

Friday, November 22
spider rico

hi stacia, bye stacia

Friday, November 22
The Mayor who cries uncle

Here is an example of a weak spineless politician who is an embarrassment to his community. A guy that on 4th of July if he hears a fire cracker he puts his hands over his head in the surrender position. Weak, devious, selfish, and a turncoat. He should brought forth in front of the K-8 students and used as an example of what not to be.

Disgraceful

Friday, November 22
Capitulation Jose

Dear Mayor Capitulation,

We all understand that your ego is larger than your gonads, but there is a remedy for that syndrome. Stand up, tell the truth, do your job, and represent the residents. Stop trying to protect your less than intelligent son and let him learn by his mistakes. He is certainly seeing numerous examples of your mistakes but then again, the apple doesn't fall to far from the tree. When you leave this position in disgrace and not as an example of reform, you will still have your used car lot to fall back on and the pension that you robbed from the taxpayers.

Friday, November 22
Apollo

The squad is being hard on Joe. Leave hin alone. He's doing a good job

Friday, November 22
Jimmy

They can scream all they want. The votes are there... done deal, see you all in 3 years.

Friday, November 22
Please

Jimmy

You said you were no longer blog on this website. SHUT UP !!!

I guess you learned well at the WFD....your word means nothing. Illegal contracts, bullying people at council meetings, jeopardizing people's employment.

The WFD taught you well....character means nothing.

Saturday, November 23
Jimmy

Hi Stacia

Saturday, November 23
spider rico

bye stacia

Saturday, November 23
Apollo

Bye Stacia

Sunday, November 24
Warwickbeautiful

Didn't Stacia get divorced and move to Charlestown? Why is she still commenting on this website?

Monday, November 25
Hillsgrove Hal

Mayor Solomon still doesn't seem to know when to let his actions speak for themselves.

He's negotiated a decent contract and apparently learned from his mistake of announcing contract terms before the fire union voted on them. It also seems to be a realistic contract, no matter what the screeching commenters on this site say.

That should be good enough -- but no, he has to insist that "My way is something that has been unheard of and hasn’t occurred in 20 years" -- as in, the 20 years he was on the council with a Democratic majority and rubber-stamped what Avedisian put in front of him?

It's just another example of Solomon breaking his arm to pat himself on the back -- while actually admitting how little he did to influence past events in the city.

Monday, November 25
The Raven is Back

Welcome back Creekee! The contract sucks. Scotty would be proud of it.

Monday, November 25
Hillsgrove Hal

The Raven is Back, (again) I am not this Creekee person so (again) I don't know what you are talking about, and it is (again) clear that you don't, either.

Avedisian wanted an OPEB trust fund for years and Solomon rejected it, so Avedisian supporting this contact would not be a surprise (or a bad thing).

Monday, November 25
Ben Dover

When is a deal not a deal? When you can't afford it....Once again, the unions have won and in addition, they have the "Evergreen Contract" in their back pocket...I don't know how many folks know what it is, or ever read the legislation...No matter...This State is determined to tax, regulate, fee, permit, etc. its way out of this financial abyss..Can't be done...Pass the cranberry sauce....

Tuesday, November 26
davebarry

Perhaps Warwick can learn to cut expenses instead of increasing taxes. One thing the city could do is to require retired police and fire who go to work elsewhere (the majority) to take the next employers healthcare. This would go a long way to save money on benefits. If the new employer's plan was worse than the city plan, the city could make up the difference.

Tuesday, November 26
Jimmy

The evergreen bill has zero effect on firefighter contracts They have had the firefighters arbitration act for a long time.

Wednesday, November 27
Jimmy

Dave Barry great idea re:retired employee health. Would definitely ease the cities burden

Wednesday, November 27
Ben Dover

Jimmy;

I am confused. If the firefighter arbitration act has existed for a long time, why is there a need for this Evergreen legislation? Why is there a need for A Statewide piece of legislation for an arbitration act that already exists? Could you explain that to me? To me, it seems they have codified into law what already existed for firefighters and expanded it to include all...As we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, in this case everybody now is bound by the same terms...It also seems to me that cities and towns who are already woefully underfunded in pension and healthcare funds are going to take another hit for more dough...But that is just me reading this., Evergreen....thing....Have a good BIRD-DAY.

Wednesday, November 27
Jimmy

The evergreen bill was never designed or geared towards firefighters. It simply reinforced the arbitration act. We could care less if it passed or not.

Wednesday, November 27
Jimmy

Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 27
Jimmy

To me it seemed like it was geared towards the teachers. Firefighters and police have their own arbitration act that we got in order to never be able to strike.

Wednesday, November 27
Jimmy

What people fail to realize is there are no raises in contracts that expire and continue. Raises are tied to a specific date. However most healthcare language like WFDs says healthcare can go up 10% annually. So if there is no contract in place, there are no raises but healthcare will always go up.

Wednesday, November 27
Warwick_Resident1998

Fire and Police already had "Evergreen provisions" in their contract. Municipal did not.

Here is the one from page 50 of the 2015-2018 Fire contract:" In the event a new contract is not executed prior to the expiration of this Agreement, this Agreement and all of its terms and conditions will remain in full force and effect until a new written contract is executed; provided, however, that the foregoing shall not prohibit any provision in a new contract from being retroactive to the first (1st) day of July, AD 2018."

And Police on page 62: "This Agreement shall be for a term beginning July 1, 2018,and ending June 30,2021.

The City and the Lodge agree that the terms and conditions of this Agreement shall remain in

effect until a new agreement is either negotiated or arbitrated."

And in my opinion there is no way you are going to be able to adjust retiree benefits. Especially when current members benefits have not been negotiated or altered.

Wednesday, November 27
PensionMan

I have an idea, the city can start a buy out plan like big companies do.

So, pay out an employee like $350,000 severance to retire without medical until medicare.

The employee gets some cash for retirement and the city saves opeb.

Then make sure new hires only are in different plans.

If employee refuses buy out then traditional agreements stand.

Sound good?

Thursday, November 28
Get used to the status quo

Retiree's can add. For the most part, if a buyout is worth less than the expected payout, they will refuse. Some people may take it for example if they dont expect to live as long (has COPD etc), but in those hypothetical cases, the city still pays more. I think expecting any reduction in contracted retiree benefits without a bankruptcy (which Warwick would NOT qualify for), is wasting energy and a pipe dream. The city agreed to XYZ over the years, the public did not object (they kept reelecting the same leaders), and now that same public has been obligated to pay those benefits and the taxes will go up by the maximum allowed under state law every year until such time as things are back in balance.

The family with a 4000 property tax bill may end up paying 6000 in a few years. For most, that $165/mo extra will be mixed into their mortgage and they wont feel it enough to change the whole mayor and council and demand "austerity". Even that much (50% tax increase in 10 years) probably wont change much.

Saturday, November 30
Apollo

Taxes,

those tax numbers are not bad nor scary.

Try living in a more rural community in RI. Pick one...then tell me the taxes vs services.

Charlestown being the exception.

Hopkington, Exeter, Richmond, Scituate, etc..

those folks already pay $6,000 a year in taxes. Services include a coupe police officers, no garbage or leaf pick up, no public water, no public sewer, volunteer ambulance and fire service, minimum dpw, no this and that. Their schools are better than Warwick.

So Warwick residents have excellent services at a bargain rate ! I don't care what the squad says. It's still a bargain for what you get compared to other communities !!

I'm so tired of the complaining yet if you do comparisions Warwick is still a bargain !

Where the real problem are, The Warwick School System. That is where the squad needs to go for real changes. Everyone knows it but are afraid to confront the mighty school dept. Why? the Federal connections.

If people really gave a damn about the kids they would be going after the school dept. !

Sunday, December 1
Samuel

Stacia has moved to Charleston but is NOT divorced. If she didn't have a man to support her she would be in her parents basement with all the other unemployed disability collecting people.

4 days ago