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City Commission: Employees waiting for raise

By Bethany Knipp

Manhattan’s union-member firefighters will have another chance to bargain for an annual pay adjustment at the city commission meeting Tuesday evening.

Few would begrudge firefighters a raise, but commissioners must deal simultaneously with the rest of the city’s 335 employees – and that might mean a budget squeeze.

The International Association of Firefighters initially proposed to the city that its members should receive a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) of 2.3 percent. The city recommended 1.7 percent, which is the amount it budgeted for from its general fund of $5.2 million.

The union came down to 2.1 percent. That brought the difference between the city’s recommendation and the union’s to about $13,000 from the initial $22,000 disparity, city manager Ron Fehr said.

Fehr said it’s not about the money, given that the increase would barely cut into the budget. He said it’s about equality.

“We never made [money] an argument,” he said. “It’s more of a fairness and equity issue between union members and non-union members.”

He said that means the COLA would have to be the same for non-union city employees.

The firefighters union has 69 members that are in the position to bargain. Fehr said having a 2.1 percent increase applied to all city employees, which includes the IAF members, would cost about $68,000.

“I think it’s difficult to say that the cost of living is higher for a firefighter than it is for any other employee,” he said. 

If the city decides to increase the COLA to more than 1.7 percent, Fehr said commissioners have to reduce costs in another place in the budget.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

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