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    City firefighters to earn big pay raise

    The new contract calls for the city's safety force to receive an average 28 percent increase over three years.

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


    LARGO -- The city's 114 firefighters, lieutenants, paramedics and emergency medical technicians will see their salaries jump by an average of about 28 percent over the next three years.

    City officials said the increase was deserved. Largo firefighters are among the lowest paid in Pinellas County. Only Tarpon Springs firefighters, who cover a smaller territory, earn less, according to Largo firefighter union officials. Largo is just one of three fire departments in Florida, and the only department in Pinellas County, that are internationally accredited.

    "The problem we faced is if we are the best department, we should be paying competitively," said Mayor Bob Jackson.

    City commissioners are expected to officially agree to the pay raise on Sept. 5. The city staff and the firefighters' union began negotiations in May and worked out the deal last week.

    The new deal will put Largo firefighters on average with the five highest-paid fire departments in Pinellas County.

    A first-year Largo firefighter/EMT currently is paid $25,196. That's well below the rates for first-year firefighters in Clearwater ($31,054), Pinellas Park ($29,738) and St. Petersburg ($29,682). Under the new proposed contract, Largo's first-year firefighter/EMT will make $29,200.

    Over three years, that firefighter could see a salary jump of 25 percent, according to the contract.

    Union president and Largo Fire Department Lt. Jeff Bullock said he was looking for parity with other departments when he began negotiations with the city and is pleased with the contract.

    "We feel that the city has the gold medal (with Largo firefighters)," he said. "We were only asking for the bronze (in terms of pay)."

    When asked if they received the bronze, Bullock replied "absolutely."

    Firefighter/paramedic Frank Rodriguez said many firefighters work second jobs. He believes the new contract will help ease that burden.

    "It gives us a better opportunity for us to do better for our families," said Rodriguez, who has been a member of the department for seven years and could see his salary increase $13,000 in the next three years.

    City Manager Steven Stanton said the city will pay for the increases through property tax revenues and other sources.

    City commissioners have been concerned the city could find itself in a financial bind, after upcoming discussions over pension benefits for police officers and firefighters and salary negotiations with 350 city employees.

    "They put pressure on the tax structure," Jackson said.

    Stanton said he hopes city revenue streams cover the salary increases.

    "Hopefully, the normal growth of revenue will absorb it because if not, we will look to other sources," he said.

    Last year, the city's police officers and sergeants worked out a new three-year contract giving them a $3,500 increase during the first year -- about $67 extra per week. They also will receive 5 percent salary increases in each of the following two years.

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