An arbitrator awarded a 6% pay raise to Rockford firefighters.

City officials said the award will cost taxpayers an estimated $618,000 in 2011 and more than $1.2 million in 2012 when the 6.1 percent wage is in effect for a full year.

Arbitrator Robert Perkovich rejected the city’s offer of a 2 percent wage increase this year. [IAFF Local 413 president Lt. Brad] Walker called the salary hike overdue.

“There were no raises in ’09 and ’10,” he said. “We went 26 months without a general wage increase.”

Walker said the wage hike keeps the city’s firefighters in the same ballpark as other Illinois fire departments of similar size.

“We were just trying to stay close to our comparable cities,” Walker said of Aurora, Bloomington, Champaign, DeKalb, Joliet, Peoria and Springfield.

Rockford already faces a deficit of $4 million in the coming year. At least one alderman is calling for outsourcing ambulance services in response to the crisis.