LC Firefighters looking to voters for pay increase

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Contract negotiations between the City and Lake Charles Firefighters Union have been underway since mid-September. Operating with a $3,000,000 deficit, City officials have been very clear there's no money for a pay raise.

"It's not that they don't deserve it. But we are budgeting operating deficits much like the rest of the state and even the country," explained John Cardone, Lake Charles City Administrator.

Fire fighters currently start off making $26,208. After their first year they receive $6,000 in state supplemental pay and upon their third year an annual 2% Civil Service pay increase.

On top of that firefighters are asking for a 20% pay increase over three years: 10% the first year, 5% the second and third year. At Tuesday's City Council agenda meeting Lake Charles Firefighter Union President Will Veuleman requested the council put a millage proposition on the November 2012 ballot for a firefighter pay raise.

"At this point this is the only viable solution for both sides," said Veuleman.

Council members had lots of questions including who would pay for the election and the impact of the tax.

"I don't know if anybody is going to sponsor this tonight," said John Ieyoub, Lake Charles City Council President.

"I understand that you may be hesitant to do it but when it comes to a proposition of this nature it's a no lose situation for you because it is not as if anyone of you single handedly are putting it up. You are allowing for the people to decide for themselves whether they want it or not," said Veuleman.

Each millage generates about $500,000. The City estimates to give them a 20% raise it would take about 4 mills - generating about $2,000,000 per year.

"It's difficult to go out and ask voters to pass a millage or some type of tax for a pay raise. Now in all fairness to them we have not seen their package - they haven't put anything together for us to review," said Cardone.

After meeting Wednesday morning, the firefighters are also requesting a temporary raise in the form of a $100 food allowance per month for every employee, which would cost the City $200,000.

"That would go away right after the election whether it passes or fails. That would give them something until they have an opportunity to go before the voters for the millage proposition. Can we afford it? Right now we have no money to go towards pay raises at all," said Cardone.

According to the City the Firefighters Union is putting a package together for their millage proposition and will present it at the Council's next agenda meeting on October 25th. It takes one council member to sponsor the item and four votes to get it on the ballot.

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