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Buffalo control board praises fire contract

The Brown administration won praise from the city’s control board Wednesday for the tentative contract it negotiated with firefighters, while the board revealed that the contract will mean significant raises for department leadership.

The 15-year agreement awards members of the Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association their first raises since 2007 and includes greater health care contributions from new employees, a residency requirement and new work rules that are expected to save the city money.

“By maintaining an adequate fund balance and carrying it through, you put yourself in a position where you could bargain effectively,” R. Nils Olsen Jr., chairman of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, told Mayor Byron W. Brown. “I think this is a major step forward for the city.”

The control board predicts that the contract will cost the city $29 million, which will be covered by city reserves or future revenue that the city had already planned to spend on the contract.

The city saves 60 cents for every dollar it spends under the agreement, said control board analyst Bryce Link.

Raises are retroactive to July 1, 2012. The average raise from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, is 21.05 percent. Between 2013 and 2017, it is 2 percent yearly. For example, firefighters earning $53,917 will earn $63,247, retroactive to July 1, 2012, and see pay increases yearly until July 1, 2016, when their income reaches $68,461, or 27 percent more than their current salary.

The City Charter mandates that raises for union members, which Olsen called “meaningful and appropriate,” are tied to raises for the commissioner and three deputy commissioners.

Fire Commissioner Darnell W. Whitfield Jr. will see his salary go up 29 percent during the contract, which expires June 30, 2017. Commissioner pay will increase from the current salary of $102,344 to $121,722, paid retroactively to July 1, 2012, and will rise annually until July 1, 2016, when it reaches $131,756.

The department’s three deputy commissioners’ salaries will rise from $89,372 to $115,742 in 2016, or 30 percent.

The control board plays an advisory role and does not have the power to prohibit the city from entering into labor contracts, as it did in the past.

But the board’s analysis could be valuable to Common Council members in their deliberations before they vote on the contract Tuesday, though Council members have already said they were inclined to approve it given the fact that the firefighters had already approved it.

The city’s contract with firefighters expired June 30, 2002, and relations between firefighters and the administration have been acrimonious.