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Council and firefighters come to agreement on benefits

CARLSBAD — After months of negotiation, City Council members voted 4-1 in favor of the city’s “last, best and final offer” regarding retirement benefits for local firefighters.
City staff and the Carlsbad Firefighters Association, or CFA, had reached an impasse, causing the council to vote on the issue on May 18. After a presentation from each party, the council opted for the city’s solution over two alternative proposals offered by the CFA.
The terms and conditions of the “last, best and final offer” increase what CFA members will pay for retirement benefits and also establishes a second tier retirement plan for future employees.
Currently, the city pays 8 of the 9 percent of a CFA member’s salary that is put toward retirement benefits. As of May 31, members will be responsible for the entire portion, saving the city an annual $750,000 after 10 years, said city negotiator Steve Berliner.
The “second tier” retirement plan is the first of its kind in the county and will affect new employees starting on or after Oct. 4, 2010. The new plan calls for employees retiring at age 50 to receive 2 percent of their salary for every year of employment, instead of the current 3 percent.
A charter amendment preventing further changes to the retirement plan without voter approval can also be included on the November ballot under the new plan terms.
Councilman Keith Blackburn — the lone dissenter — voted against the measure, suggesting that it would no longer attract star employees to the city and would compromise safety in the city of Carlsbad.
“I strongly think that going to the second tier retirement system is a big mistake,” he said. “We’re going to build the most mediocre group of safety personnel that this county has to offer.”
Mayor Bud Lewis replied with his belief that young people from the military and other walks of life will still be attracted to a position in Carlsbad, regardless of the benefit plan. He originally voted for the 3 percent at 50 years old plan when the economy was better, and would encourage renegotiating each year as the economy changes.
“Those that are here are very professional and do an excellent job,” he said. “Carlsbad is a very safe place and the reason why is because of our safety personnel.”
The new terms will be in effect from Jan. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2010. At year’s end, a new round of labor negotiations between both parties can start again.