Bethany Firefighter Budget Battle Continues

Saturday, January 4th 2014, 11:06 pm
By: News 9

The Bethany Fire Department is short one man after pay raises in wake of a bitter budget battle left him without a job.

The Mayor says the offer is still on the table for the Bethany Fire Department to take the 4 percent pay raise the city offered. But the firefighters union said they fought too hard for an 8 percent raise for all the firefighters, including the one laid-off.

"What is sad and what this story ultimately boils down to is that a group chose 8 percent over 4 percent and chose to let one of their own members go," said Bethany Mayor Bryan Taylor.

Taylor says the time for negotiations is over: Either the Bethany Fire Department accepts a 4 percent raise or keeps rookie firefighter Josh Morgan out of work.

"We're doing anything we can to keep Josh's job. That what it all boils down to," said Local 2085 Union president Brian Murray. "It's not worth fighting among each other, it's just we're trying to keep his job."

The union won an 8 percent pay raise when an arbitrator, both the city and the union paid for from New Mexico, found there was enough money in Bethany's budget to pay for raises for all 22 firefighters. But Taylor says the arbitrator found "excess funds" in the city's emergency fund, which he refuses to use for pay raises.

1/2/2014 Related Story: Bethany Firefighter Loses Job Following Raise agreement For Co-Workers

"The city doesn't feel that it's responsible to spend those emergency dollars on a raise for employees," Taylor said.

"Having a cushion at the end of the year is what we have to have. This spring, if Bethany becomes the next Moore, what do we do if we continue to spend those funds, and do it all just in the name of giving people a raise?"

Bethany City manager John Shugart says if anyone knows Bethany's budget, it's him. He was the city's financial manager before he became city manager and says the funds just aren't there.

"Our revenue is down about $250,000 this year, so what they're asking us to do is use our money from savings, our money from our public works department, which has to pay for our water and streets," Shugart said. "It's not that we don't want to, it's just a matter of splitting the pie to all of our departments."

The union says Bethany Firefighters are to be paid on average with the Metro Oklahoma City area. But they make on average $16 an hour while an Oklahoma City Firefighter makes $30.

"It's not that we're trying to be greedy. We fought for an increase for all of us, and it's not fair that other departments got that raise without losing anybody," Murray said.

The Mayor says the average Bethany firefighter makes well over $51,000, gets a nice benefits package and pension for working nine days a month.

"How in the world would we ever pay that metro average wage when we don't bring in metro average sales tax receipts," Taylor said.

"It's unrealistic to think that the city that brings in the least would pay somewhere in the middle, and we've tried several times to get that part removed from their contract."

Murray said at no time during their contract negotiations were they told a firefighters' job would be cut.

12/15/2013 Related Story: Bethany Firefighters' Raise Comes With Strings Attached

"That's simply not true," Shugart said. "I was present during their negotiations, and I made it very clear to their team that the city would have to live within its budget, and certainly losing one member of their team would have to be a possibility."

Morgan, the firefighter caught in the middle, was laid off Friday. His rookie year would've been completed on Tuesday. He and his wife are expecting their fourth child in two weeks.

"I hope that things change and that they can work something out at the city to be able to keep my job," Morgan said. "Because the last thing I want is to be canned. It's tough, I was planning to spend my whole career here."

Taylor says the city is experiencing cuts in every department and is shorthanded in police officers. Murray says the city just hired three police officers, but chose to let go a firefighter.

Bethany Fire now has seven firefighters working each shift and mutual aid agreements with neighboring cities to help them fight fires.

Taylor says the city did offer other city employees, including police captains and lieutenants an 8 percent raise in the form of a 4 percent step raise and a 4 percent cost of living adjustment. Murray says the firefighters union asked for that same raise for all 22 firefighters, but was denied.