News

Menlo fire board approves new firefighter contract

Flood of emails had urged board to vote no on five-year agreement

This chart shows the fiscal impact of the contract on the fire district, with a cumulative total cost to the district of more than $17 million by the 2022-23 fiscal year. (Courtesy Menlo Park Fire Protection District)

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District's board usually conducts its meetings with little public input, but just before the board's Aug. 30 meeting to consider approving a five-year contract with the district's firefighters' union, emails started to flood board members' inboxes.

By its end, the five-year contract, which the board approved by a 4-1 vote, increases wages and benefits by an average of $58,726 in additional annual spending for each of the union's 102 employees.

A consultant's report shows the district's spending on those employees increasing from the current level by a cumulative $17.04 million over the contract's life.

All of the emails urged "no" votes on the contract, and many appeared to have been prompted by a call to action by former Menlo Park City Council member Lee Duboc.

"Huge Fire District salaries and pension obligations that are salary based are driving up the cost of living here, and will continue, even after the inevitable downturn occurs," she wrote to her Menlo Park's Future group. "If you think the District should rethink the proposed increase, email the Directors," she wrote.

District officials say the fire district now has an unfunded pension liability of $39.3 million.

Planning Commissioner Henry Riggs was one of those who emailed. "I suspect very few residents would knowingly vote yet more money to our very, very highly paid and benefited fire fighters," he wrote. "There have to be limits, no matter how much we respect the work of the District."

Despite the emails, the fire board voted, with only board President Chuck Bernstein dissenting, to approve the new contract.

"It's costly like everything else," is for local residents, said board member Rob Silano. "I feel they should have the best services and the best firefighters around. We have that," he said. "We can afford to pay for that."

But Bernstein had the opposite view. "I think the average increases are way beyond the norm of our community," he said, adding that increasing wages and benefits for a workforce that already has higher incomes than many local taxpayers do "adds insult to injury."

"I think the money would be better spent within the district" for things such as new fire stations, an improved alerting system and building up the district's disaster volunteer organization, Bernstein said.

The board's vote came just days after the California State Controller's Office released figures showing that, for the second consecutive year, the fire district has the highest average wage of any California state or local agency.

With the addition of more than a half-dozen new entry-level firefighters and several retirements in 2017, the district's average wage at $166,568 was slightly down from 2016, by $3,184. The second- highest average wage in the state was at the San Ramon Valley Fire District, at $158,840.

Board member Peter Carpenter said the state listing is misleading, because many individual firefighters in the state make higher wages than Menlo Park's firefighters.

A district report shows that in 2017, Menlo fire had 24 employees who made more than $300,000 in salary, benefits and district-paid retirement contributions.

Separate contracts cover the district's nonfirefighting employees and management above the level of captain. The firefighters' union includes fire inspectors and a deputy fire marshal.

The contract is retroactive to June 24 and goes through June 23, 2023. The union's previous four-year contract expired on June 23.

A consultant's analysis of the contract shows that while the district's spending on compensation for those in the firefighters' union will rise by a cumulative $17.04 million by the end of the contract, a little more than $7 million of that increase would have occurred if the recently expired contract had been extended. The compensation amounts in the analysis do not include overtime.

The district's compensation costs will go up an average of 5.35 percent a year under the new contract.

In addition to the increases in base pay, the district's firefighters will get extra pay for the emergency medical technicians or paramedics credentials they all hold. That extra pay will increase from the current monthly $320 for EMTs and $1,175 for paramedics to $613 for EMTs and $1,594 for paramedics by July 2022.

In 2022, the contract also adds a higher step category for firefighter engineers and the fire marshal, giving any employees already at the top of those categories an additional 5 percent raise.

As long as district employees receive an annual evaluation of "satisfactory," they get an additional 5 percent "step increase" each year until they have topped out in the pay scale. District officials say that about 50 percent of the firefighters are at the top of the pay scale.

Among the increased benefits for the firefighters in the contract are: increases of at least $400 a year in district-paid health plan premiums, a more than 50 percent increase in the district's monthly Post Employment Health Plan contributions, and a 66 percent increase in the monthly stipend for living within 60 air miles of the district.

The contract also includes an agreement the district's board first approved for one year in 2017 allowing a fire captain to work a four-day, 40-hour week as a training captain, but to be paid at the 56-hour-per-week rate, plus a 10 percent premium. The captain is also allowed to work overtime hours on days off.

Only one member of the public attended the late-afternoon special meeting, which was posted by the district 24 hours in advance.

Comments

25 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 31, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Sounds like out of control spending to me

I'm not sure having the highest (or among the highest) paid firefighters in the state is an accolade worth having.

Time for some changes on the Fire Board that represent the community better.


25 people like this
Posted by lnon
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 31, 2018 at 1:15 pm

This is an example of absolute abuse of the public trust by the MP Fire Board. 50% of the firefighters are paid at the top of the payscale, the union members average over $55,000 PER YEAR in increases in this contract, Captains working 40 hour weeks but being paid for 56 hours PLUS a 10% premium! What do they think the residents are, their personal ATM?

We need to vote the 4 clowns who approved this debacle of a contract OUT OF OFFICE! I'll contribute to whoever will run to oppose and/or rescind these kinds of abuses of the taxpayers (citizens and businesses alike). Enough is enough!


17 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 31, 2018 at 2:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Fire District serves 90,000 plus residents and received 13 emails on this issue. You have to be linguistically or numerical challenged to describe that as a "flood ". All of those emails referred to an Almanac article that, in my opinion, misrepresented the facts.

An understanding of statistics is a useful tool before discussing averages.

There are thousands of firefighters in California who are paid more than the highest paid MPFPD firefighter - see

Web Link

An agency that places a priority on first responders will have a higher average salary than an agency which has a greater number of non-first responders. An easy way for an agency to lower its average salary is to hire a number of part time, low paid clerical staff - that does nothing to provide better fire and medical response.

This article also fails to note that the MPFPD average salary for 2017 went DOWN by $3,184 from 2016 while the average San Ramon Valley Fire District salary for 2017 went UP by $12,350 from 2016].


14 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 31, 2018 at 3:08 pm

Editor, I take it Peter is speaking as a fire board member. Isn't there a proper format for board members to respond to articles and their comments?


16 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 31, 2018 at 3:16 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" I take it Peter is speaking as a fire board member."

Nope, I am exercising my First Amendment rights as a private citizen.

And if I posted anonymously, as almost every one else does on this forum, you would not even know who I am


18 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 31, 2018 at 10:08 pm

Sorry Peter the only way you can be a private citizen responding on this topic is if you resign from the fire board. Sounds like a matter for some legal oversight.


16 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 31, 2018 at 11:29 pm

Brian is a registered user.

I think Peter likes to play fast and loose as well and has gotten caught at it in the past. Am I a member of the Fire Board or a private citizen? The answer to that question is what Peter thinks is in his best interest and only HIS interest. So happy he will not be a problem much longer, he has done enough damage as it is.


15 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 1, 2018 at 7:07 am

Congrats firefighters on your new contract. It appears, the 6.7 million dollars would have been costs the fire agency would have occurred anyway so 10. 3 million is the actual cost of the 5 year raise. That's, $2,060,000 a year,for 5 years. [Portion removed] Ms. Wood never put in the questions raised by the fire board that covered amount of meetings of negotiations, review of reserves, budget impact, per cent of salary on budget, surplus of tax base funds, and consideration of pension liability. Ms. Wood puts in the comments of an angry man, calling fire management, labor union, private consulting.......all misrepresented the facts. The big one, using brown act violation handouts to prove your point! Lucky fire board counsel was there to stop a possible Brown Act violation or an unfair labor practices, possible PERB Charge.
Mr. Bernstein,
What are you going to do now. It appears you called your fire board members, fire management, firefighters union, consultants....all liars, and stupid. Your fire board members called you out....asked if you had another solution... YOU PROVIDED NONE, People want people to work together, without name calling, insults, and other rude behavior.
you need to go away, run for another office and spread your hate and distrust somewhere else.


9 people like this
Posted by Steve_J
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2018 at 11:41 am

Steve_J is a registered user.

My, several picky, people. Everyone has the right to speak.


11 people like this
Posted by Who is driving the bus?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 1, 2018 at 6:24 pm

The stipend for living within 60 air miles equates to 90 road miles in most instances. That means District personnel can live in Stockton, Modesto, Fairfield, or Novato and collect this payment. How exactly does this benefit improve District operations? In the event of a major disaster off duty personnel will not be returning anytime soon.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 1, 2018 at 7:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Bus - This is a perfect example of missing the forest for the trees.

The purpose of the residency bonus is to get first responders to move closer.

That is working.

Having fire fighters living in Stockton is better for the Fire District than having firefighters living in Tahoe.


11 people like this
Posted by Other resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 4, 2018 at 6:42 am

Wouldn't it be nice if the teachers could reap the same benefits - they are teaching our children !!


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 4, 2018 at 7:21 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Wouldn't it be nice if the teachers could reap the same benefits - they are teaching our children !"

Yes !!

I voted for the school parcel tax and contributed to the school foundation.


7 people like this
Posted by lnon
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 6, 2018 at 11:37 pm

Does Peter Carpenter think we’re all Idiots? “an understanding of statistics is useful.” Yes, Peter, so is an understanding of basic arithmetic, which you don’t seem to have. I’m sure many individual firefighters across the state make more than the average MP firefighter. So what! That’s not the point. It turns out that no group of firefighters in a town or city anywhere in CA make as much as our group of firefighters, on average, as in MP. And that’s the problem. We don’t need, nor do we want, the highest paid firefighters in the state (and, therefore, probably in the entire country). And what do I care if they live in Stockton or Tahoe? Why is it better if they live in Stockton—and better for whom? If my house is burning, they’re obviously not going to be driving to MP from there to put it out. And if they choose to live in Honolulu, what should I care if they show up for work on time and do their job? Sounds to me likePeter imight be representing the best interests of the Fire Department ( and maybe himself) versus watching out for the taxpaying citizens of Menlo Park. Looks like we have another swamp to drain...


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 7, 2018 at 5:39 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I’m sure many individual firefighters across the state make more than the average MP firefighter"

In fact thousands of firefighters in California make more than the HIGHEST paid MPFPD firefighter.

Yes an understanding of statistics is useful.


4 people like this
Posted by Lnon
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 7, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Peter: again, so what if firefighters across the state make Lee than MP firefighters. The FACT is that in no city or town do firefighters make more, ON AVERAGE, than the firefighters. So, the question is, why are MP firefighters the highest paid , ON AVERAGE, in the state, and probably the country? Why are you allowing this to happen? What are you doing to protect me from being fleeced by the MP fire department?

And, most importantly, why are you still in office if you are doing nothing to watch out for me and my fellow taxpayers?


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 7, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The FACT is that in no city or town do firefighters make more, ON AVERAGE, than the firefighters"

Wrong. The average shown is for the entire agency not just the firefighters.

An agency that places a priority on first responders will have a higher average salary than an agency which has a greater number of non-first responders. An easy way for an agency to lower its average salary is to hire a number of part time, low paid clerical staff - that does nothing to provide better fire and medical response.

And with thousands of firefighters in California earning more than the HIGHEST paid MPFPD firefighter there are probably many agencies whose firefighters make more than the MPFPD firefighters.

Yes an understanding of statistics is useful.


4 people like this
Posted by lnon
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 7, 2018 at 2:43 pm

Peter: so you seem to be implying that other districts hire useless part-time fillers so they can lower their average pay so they don’t show up on the top of the list, like Menlo Park. Seriously? That’s the best you can do? Our department STILL is the highest paid in the state. I don’t believe the residents of Menlo Park signed up for that.

Also, I still don’t care if they live in our out of our city, county or even state as long as they show up for work on time. Other than that it seems to be a personal choice. You just seem to like to come up with ways to throw more of my money at this organization.

When do you start looking out for the taxpayers?


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 7, 2018 at 3:08 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"Also, I still don’t care if they live in our out of our city, county or even state as long as they show up for work on time."

You will care if, in the event of a disaster, so many firefighters live so far away (like Tahoe or beyond) that they can't get work AT ALL. The district is taking steps to get firefighters to live closer to where they work so they aren't blocked by a disaster. Which is precisely when we'll need them to be at work the most.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 7, 2018 at 4:50 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" I don’t believe the residents of Menlo Park signed up for that. "


"5.14 Sunshine Policy
It is Board Policy to be open and transparent in accordance with the law. Accordingly, any collectively bargained labor agreement between the District and a recognized employee association shall be made publicly available for thirty (30) days before the meeting at which the agreement will be acted on by the Board of Directors."

During that period only 13 of the 90,000 residents of the District submitted comments on the proposed contract and none of those comments objected to any specific clause in the proposed contact. It is clear than none of those individuals even read the proposed contract.

"7.11 Public Comments
Public comment is encouraged at all Board meetings. Any person requesting to speak is advised to fill out a speaker request card, but is not required to do so. Public comment is limited to three minutes per speaker, which may be waived or modified by the Board President.
The agenda will emphasize the right to public comment by including the following phrase as a preamble to the public comment section: “A fundamental element of democracy is the right of citizens to address their elected representatives, therefore…”

Only ONE member of the public spoke on the proposed contract at the meeting at which the contract was approved.


2 people like this
Posted by Tom Tecsi
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Sep 9, 2018 at 6:16 am

Fascinating situation. 5 elected officials, only 1 meeting attendee and 13 emails, yet deciding on presumably a significant budget issue with a five-year commitment. This is a perfect environment to negotiate in if you are the firefighters union. Only 5 people are watching, and you probably have substantial asymmetrical information and stateside union backing to push for the very best deal. It's not only in your interest, it's also in the interest of firefighters throughout the state, who can then use this decision to rachet up their compensation package when they next negotiate.
Questions:
- what % if the overall city budget is represented here?
- what % of liabilities are represented here?
- where are annual comp and benefits for each individual published, together with projected yearly retirement pension payouts?
- how do MP firefighter compensation numbers compare with Canada, Germany and Sweden (the point being this is a national, not just local issue, so we need metrics from other advanced economies)


Like this comment
Posted by Tom Tecsi
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Sep 9, 2018 at 6:27 am

Peter Carpenter, it sounds like people are comparing different numbers. Could you provide a more useful and detailed ranking of the fire districts compensation by position or category? For example, all non-clerical staff, all first-responders, ...
This would help clarify this situation. Thanks.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 9, 2018 at 9:20 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Could you provide a more useful and detailed ranking of the fire districts compensation by position or category?"

Here are all of the MPFPD salaries:

Web Link

Web Link

Unfortunately neither compensation web site provides detailed comparisons between agencies:

Web Link

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Teachers
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 25, 2018 at 6:42 pm

It really is unbelievable that certain public employees reap an insane amount of benefits and comp while others do not. Public sector spending is out of control and they make us pay for it by raising taxes and/or issuing new bonds.

The quality of public services we get in this area STINKS considering how much we pay in taxes and how generous people are with donations.

And worst of all -- teachers, who in my mind are the MOST important public servants there are -- get paid so much less than paper pushers and others. THEY should make $300k+ and that money would be well spent!

#governmentfail






Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 26, 2018 at 12:43 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 4, 2018 at 7:21 am
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
" Wouldn't it be nice if the teachers could reap the same benefits - they are teaching our children !"

Yes !!

I voted for the school parcel tax and contributed to the school foundation.


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