County, union fail to come to terms

CAO proposal for overtime reform would save Kern $3.4 million annually

County, union  fail to come  to termsKERN COUNTY ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE — The Kern County Firefighters Union has voted down the county’s offer in the latest round of negotiations for a two-year collective bargaining agreement.

As a result, the parties are now at impasse in the negotiations. The County Administrative Office will formally request a declaration of impasse from the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 21.

The county is specifically asking the union to implement recommendations to reduce overtime spending by at least $3.4 million annually. These recommendations were made by both the county’s independently elected auditor-controller and the Center for Public Safety Management in their recent audit of the Fire Department. These changes would bring the Fire Department into alignment with Fair Labor Standards Act overtime requirements; the county is currently paying in excess.

“Regretfully, we haven’t been able to reach an agreement with the union that both maintains fire service levels and makes real progress in addressing our budget deficit,” said recently appointed Interim Fire Chief David Witt. “I want to thank the Board of Supervisors for the extraordinary support they’ve given our department the last three years during tough times. Addressing the fiscal challenges we have is a priority for me, and I’m confident the steps we are taking today will ensure our success going forward.”

The Fire Department’s Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget will require at least a $6.5-million contribution from the county’s General Fund reserves to pay for employee pension cost increases. By the end of Fiscal Year 20-21, nearly $35 million of General Fund reserves will have been used to pay for ongoing expenses.

“If left unaddressed, this deficit will continue to place a heavy burden on other critical county services and public safety functions,” according to Kern’s Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop. “It also prevents us from keeping pace on capital investment needs for the Fire Department.”

This funding includes the infrastructure and equipment that help keep firefighters safe, he said.

Witt said he will be pursuing several priorities in weeks ahead. “I want to be as effective in running our finances as my professional firefighters are in responding to our emergency operations,” he said. “I’m seeking the board’s support of a restructure of our department’s administrative and financial operation, as well as reviewing potential changes to our current vehicle take-home policy and practice. I’m going to address the department’s local hiring practices with a focus on hiring more Kern County residents for careers in the fire service, and I will seek the board’s support for a one-time capital-needs investment of $4 million to purchase new vehicles and equipment, and repair our stations.”

The CAO and the interim fire chief are conducting a comprehensive review of the Fire Department’s entire fee schedule.

Story First Published: 2019-05-10