LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Despite having no contract Lake Charles Firefighters continue to put out the fires and the City will continue to pay them the rate they were used to.
"So without having a contract in place we still have to pay them the rate that they would normally be making under a contract," asked Rodney Geyen, Lake Charles City Council.
"That is more or less a function of Civil Service Law," said Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach. "Since the contract expired we don't have authorization to pay the firemen for work that is being done. So we need to amend the personnel policy manual to put firemen in the policy manual making it clear they will get paid in accordance with State and Federal law."
The council passed five ordinances Wednesday night to continue paying fire employees according to state and federal law along with the 10 holidays they had before. But with no contract fire fighters are still not required to move up - costing the City more overtime. In the last pay period seven days were not under contract. According to City Finance Director Karen Harrell in the 10 days under contract overtime averaged 41 1/2 hours at an average of $692. Compare that to the seven days not under contract and there were an average of 59 hours of overtime at an average of $1100. Harrell said some of that included captains who weren't initially receiving overtime while under contract.
"It appears the trend that the higher level are the ones getting paid the overtime. We do still have some entry levels that are getting paid overtime as well," explained Harrell.
To manage the situation Fire Chief Keith Murray has closed down two ladder trucks.
"If we were to keep every fire truck open the way it was before we had a contract overtime would be more. It would be significantly more," said Chief Murray.
It's a trigger effect. Closing down the trucks could change the City's fire rating.
"When it comes to the issue relating to working up - if it takes hiring independent council to see if we have authority to enforce that, I think we need to do that. This is very high priority," said Stuart Weatherford, Lake Charles City Council.
Mayor Roach said they've already filed for a judge to declare if they can legally require the employees to move up with no contract.
"What we all agree we need to do is get a quick determination from the court as to whether or not we can require employees to move up and take those temporary appointments to fill those temporary vacancies. That would help us tremendously in avoiding some of this overtime and avoiding the necessity of having to brown out an additional ladder truck," said Mayor Roach.
Operating with a projected $3,000,000 deficit the council feels like their hands are tied.
"If we have to come back and amend budgets that means we are going to have to come back and change something else and take away from another department. And I'm not inclined to do that under any circumstances. That's not fair to the citizens of the city. It's not fair to the council to have to rob Peter to pay Paul," said Marshall Simien, Lake Charles City Council.
"I have a real problem with it. I really do. And so I'm going to be pushing for legislation to change something from a legislative point of view to make certain we are never put in this kind of predicament again," said Geyen.
A couple of other council members also jumped on that band wagon saying they support and would help get the wheels moving for proposed legislation to change Civil Service Law.