Firefighters say city promised insurance help

Saturday, October 18th 2008, 11:53 pm
By: News 9

By Jennifer Pierce, NEWS 9

EDMOND, Okla. -- Retired Edmond firefighters may be done fighting fires, but they're not done fighting for something they say they were promised. The retired city employees were supposed to receive a portion of a penny sales tax to help with health insurance costs, but the firefighters said they haven't seen a penny.

Retired Edmond firefighter Ben White has fond memories of his time on the department.

"I enjoyed the work and the comradery of the firemen," White said.

He was there during the Oklahoma City bombing and responded to dozens of car accidents. After 31 years, he called it quits, but now he's planning to rejoin the workforce just so he can afford health insurance.

White said he and other retired firefighters aren't getting the help they were promised from the city of Edmond.

"It's just been talk and meeting, talk and meeting, and talk and meeting ever since the sales tax passed," White said.

Edmond voters approved a tax increase in 2000 to help fund public safety. A portion of the money would subsidize retiree insurance. That is the written understanding the firefighter union and city leaders had before the tax even passed.

"There was no doubt in anybody's mind there that they were going to do something for retirees," White said.

But the current city manager said nothing was ever promised.

"Our position has always been the city's perspective. That the ordinance that was approved by the voters in 2000 allowed funds to be used to fund retirement benefits but never required," Edmond City Manager Larry Stevens said.

In a copy of the ordinance obtained by NEWS 9, the document states that a percentage of the tax shall be expended for firefighting personnel, equipment, and competitive compensation and benefits for existing and retired fire personnel.

But retirees like Ben White haven't seen a penny. Even if he never does, White said he will continue to fight for future firefighters.

"I'm hopeful that they will. I'm hopeful that it will all work out, but I'm certainly not holding my breath," White said.

The city manager said the primary focus of the tax increase was to add positions to the police and fire departments. Stevens said that money was used to hire 40 employees for both departments and buy new equipment.