COEUR d'ALENE, Idaho (AP) - A new five-year contract could
increase wages for Coeur d'Alene firefighters by 28 percent and
help them offset the costs of health care.
City officials agreed to the new contract Friday but both
measures still need City Council approval.
"Coeur d'Alene turned into a training ground," said Tom Greif,
president of the International Association of Firefighters Local
1494. "The newer firefighters were testing and going elsewhere. We
lose a lot of guys to Spokane. Those wages and health benefits will
improve retention for us."
The city and its firefighters had been engaged in contract talks
for three months and both parties said they came away from the deal
better off.
"We're really pleased with how the city government treated
us," Greif said. "There wasn't a big balk at the numbers. They
brought us up where we needed to be."
City officials said they hope the increased wages and improved
health benefits will level the playing field with other cities.
"We used Lewiston as a comparable and we have agreed we were 20
percent below their pay for firefighters," said city administrator
Wendy Hague.
First-year firefighters in Coeur d'Alene have traditionally made
about $29,004 per year while firefighters with similar training in
Lewiston make about $33,000 per year.
Officials also said the city's medical savings plan is a fairly
new concept in the health care industry.
Under the plan city employees will receive between $55 and $57 a
month. The money will be counted as nontaxable income as long as it
is spent on health care.
The program would affect about 265 employees and cost the city
$174,900 to $181,260 per year.
City finance director Troy Tymesen said money built up in the
accounts is also transferrable to relatives if an employee dies.
The city is also involved in contract negotiations with the
police department and the Lake City Employees Association. Hague
would not comment on the details but said the negotiations should
be finished in the next two weeks.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)