RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- Reno City Councilman Dwight Dortch is continuing to speak out against one of Reno's fire unions.
While appearing on Nevada Newsmakers, Dwight said he worries greatly about the city being able to move forward, due to "the unsustainability of these contracts." The city is in negotiations with its labor unions, including the Reno Fire Fighters Association, I.A.F.F, Local 731, as preparations are made to layoff up to 33 firefighters on July 1 after losing a federal grant.
Dortch said the union should be making concessions to save jobs, but is instead asking for raises. "They've come back and now they've asked for an 8-percent raise. So they've come to the table, instead of going in the other direction saying, 'hey, we want to save firefighters,' they've come back to us and said, 'no, I want an 8-percent raise,' which is going to cost us another 15 firefighters."
Dortch told viewers most of the city's budget is comprised of labor costs. "Eighty-five percent of our budget is people, so the money's got to come from somewhere."
The union is suing the city to try and block the lay-offs. Dortch said one of the arguments is the city has an ending fund balance and therefore has the money to pay for the firefighting positions.
"They're saying the money's there because we have an ending fund balance so you shouldn't have to lay-off people and you should give us raises," Dortch said. "We have to have an ending fund balance because of state law. If we keep the minimum, then we have a cash flow problem throughout the year."
"There are times, just because of the way tax revenues come in, that the taxes are higher or lower during the year," explained Dortch. "But we still have to pay our bills so we have to keep our ending fund balance where during the low times we can make our payments."
Dortch believes firefighters are already wel- compensated. "Local 731 makes about $129,000 per year. When you consider that it's for life, medical, heart and lung compensation, it's a little more than $150,000 per year it costs the city."
"Typically you can come in, and start working when you're 20, you work 25 years, then you can retire at 45 and you can draw a pension and medical for the rest of your life. You're going to draw your medical and pension for longer than you worked."
The Ward 4 Councilmember was asked what he believes is a long-term solution if labor contracts are unsustainable as he suggests. He said he supports turning some fire service functions over to private companies.
For example, he supports paying REMSA, the city's private ambulance service, for manning two of the city's closed fire stations to provide medical support. "If we are going to do that in house, and we're not allowed to do that by contract, run a two-man medical unit, it would cost us $1 million. REMSA could do it for $450,000, which is less than half our costs."
Dortch notes it is an election year, and he worries the next Mayor may not have enough experience to lead the city through what he sees are labor challenges. When asked if he planned to endorse any of the candidates, he responded, "What I've taken on as my position on fire, I think some of the candidates don't necessarily want to be associated with me right now."
The Reno Fire Fighters Association President did not return calls for a response.