TAVARES In the first of what will be several bargaining sessions, the International Association of Firefighters Local 3245 met with city officials Thursday to discuss proposals to increase pension contributions for employees. Union president Alan Gagne said the union has been working on the idea for some time.

“We are just trying to come to an agreement and make sure it is fair,� Gagne said.

Jeff Hosterman, a member of the Fire Department and union, said there is a “joint responsibility� between the department and the city for improvements.

According to the presentation, a Tavares police officer could retire after 25 years and receive 75 percent total pension, but a firefighter would have to work 37 years to receive the same amount.

Currently, a pension multiplier of 2 percent is used to calculate Tavares firefighters’ pensions. The final average salary, multiplied by 2 percent, is then multiplied by the number of years of service to determine retirement pay. Mount Dora and Eustis have multipliers of 3.25 and 4 percent respectively. The proposal is asking for an increase to 3 percent. According to the presentation, half the police and fire departments in the state have a multiplier of 3 percent.

Member contribution to pension for firefighters in Tavares is at 1 percent, but the proposal would increase this contribution to 3 percent.

The city contribution is slightly more difficult. Since the fire department participates in a chapter plan, the city contribution is set by the state. The contribution from Tavares is listed at 5 percent. This is the lowest donation allowed, but the city usually gives more, said Lori Houghton, finance director. The new proposal would ask for a city contribution of 10.9 percent, bringing it closer to the city contribution to the police pension, which is expected to increase to 15.6 percent.

Hosterman said the pension is extremely important.

“We lost people because of it,� Hosterman said. “We are not asking to be the best paid, just competitive.�

City Administrator Dottie Keedy said it is an important issue.

“Retirement could be improved,� Keedy said. “It is a benefit in retaining and attracting employees. But we must look at the financial impact on the city.�

The next bargaining session is scheduled for June 23 at Tavares City Hall.