The City of Springfield is expecting to approve a new contract with its firefighters’ union soon.

Golly, I wish we had that kind of news coverage. Remember the last-minute hoop we had to jump through to find what the 2011 contract with our firefighters was about?

The Springfield story reminded me that the longish closed sessions our council is holding lately have something to do with collective bargaining and not just horse-trading over the appointment of the new city manager. Sure enough, DeKalb’s agreement with International Association of Firefighters Local 1236 expires June 30, 2014.

I meant to look at the contract anyway because during the last council meeting, they were speaking in code while talking about the latest emergency services contract. The code was “7(g)” and turns out “7(g)” is shorthand for, “How much the city is going to pay emergency personnel to attend sporting events.”

But on to the quid pro quo.

The parties acknowledge that the Union’s agreed modifications of the existing retiree health insurance benefits agreed to herein are a material part of the quid pro quo for the parties’ minimum shift manning agreement (Article VI, Section 6.8) and are subject to the terms of the parties’ Side Letter, a copy of which is attached as Appendix J.

Yes. In order to help reduce an unfunded liability for providing retiree health insurance, the city bargained away the right to staff the fire department as it sees fit. As of January 1, 2012, DeKalb must maintain daily staffing levels of 13 per shift in each of its three fire stations, except when:

  • Sick leave usage exceeds 350 hours in a month.
  • There are three or more long-term absences (defined as an absence of at least 9 consecutive duty days) going on AND NIU is not in session.
  • General Fund revenues drop by 2% in a year.
  • The third contingency is particularly disturbing. The city may drop staffing from 13 to 12 per shift if it realizes a 2% loss in annual net operating revenue after interfund transfers.

    Maybe this sounds fine on the surface, but think about it. Transfers out typically range from 7-9% of General Fund expenditures, transfers in 5-6% of GF revenues. So, theoretically at least, a decision made in any one year (e.g., a $650,000 transfusion to the airport) could assist us in hitting the 2% loss threshold. But would transfer decisions automatically be considered “bona fide” enough for the purposes of changing fire station staffing levels? I’m not so sure.

    And this situation potentially gets worse, because as of the current fiscal year, TIF fund transfers into the General Fund make up 3% of its revenues. So now — unless this changes with the next contract — the fire department has a stake in perpetuating TIF.

    Suddenly we might consider DeKalb’s financial consultants’ puzzling support of a “zombie” TIF district as a “revenue opportunity” in a different light.

    Also, I now wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the parts of the consultants’ report that the city redacted have something to do with council’s signing off on idiotic labor contracts.