The Newberry City Commission ratified an agreement with its firefighters and approved an amended first reading of the urban services area boundary on Monday.
The city’s agreement with Professional Firefighters of Newberry Local No. 3852 had not been changed since 2016, according to Newberry fire chief Mike Vogel, who presented the negotiation’s results in Monday’s meeting. In March 2022, the plan was reopened, and negotiations began in December.
The new contract moves firefighter pay raises to a step plan, raises the paramedic stipend and reduces mandatory overtime (MOT), in part by spreading it more evenly, among dozens of other changes.
“I think that what [Vogel] presented is fair to our fire department,” Mayor Jordan Marlowe said. “It’s fair to the other employees, and it’s fair to the residents.”
One of the largest issues addressed in negotiations was a step plan for firefighter pay raises. Currently, firefighters must meet certain evaluation expectations before each raise they can receive. The step plan will guarantee a 2% raise for every year of service for up to 25 years before the rate of raises slows. Vogel said the step plan will have a budget impact of $90,000.
Another problem the firefighters wanted to be addressed was mandatory overtime (MOT). Some have been working over 300 hours a year of MOT, according to Vogel.
“The current system with the mandatory overtime, it kind of gets slammed on all the firemen and they get beat up with it,” Vogel said.
Under the new deal, those who have worked the least MOT will be prioritized first in the search for someone to fill a shift, as long as it does not cause a paramedic shortage.
If there is a paramedic shortage on a shift, Vogel said that will be the first priority to cover, requiring another paramedic to fill the slot. The deal also removes the 198 rule, which required the department to guarantee 198 hours of overtime before it could hire part-timers. Now the department can even the spread of overtime and use part-timers when needed to maintain the level.
Because paramedics have rigorous training requirements and can provide a higher level of care than EMTs, Vogel said he wants to encourage EMT employees to go to school to become paramedics.
Newberry currently pays a stipend of $6,500 per year to those going through paramedic training. The new agreement raises the stipend to $10,000 a year, split into 26 equal installments.
During Monday’s meeting, the commission also heard the first reading of Newberry’s new urban services area (USA) line, which determines the area in which the city encourages development. The boundary is currently shaped like a circle, but the city plans to amend it to follow the borders of existing land parcels.
“I go back in history books—they just kind of put a pin in and circled,” Marlowe said.
The commission asked staff to revise the plan again, squaring the corners to make the boundary clearer before sending it to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to be approved.
Bryan Thomas, Newberry’s Director of Planning & Economic Development, estimated that the DEO would take four months to re-approve the boundary with the new changes. After that, the City Commission can vote to approve it at a second reading.
The City Commission also approved a tentative pledge to secure a matching grant for the restoration of a historic power plant. According to City Manager Mike New, the Florida Department of State (DOS) responded immediately and positively to Newberry’s grant application, requesting that the city pass a resolution, tentatively pledging $347,500, a 50% match of total funding for the project.
The City Commission discussed at length an upcoming amendment in the city ordinance on fireworks. Staff were expected to present a first reading of the amendment at Monday’s meeting, but the commission had enough input before hearing the amendment that Thomas said he would bring it back with changes for the first reading.
Florida law encourages cities to make exceptions to their firework bans for Independence Day (July 4), New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31) and New Year’s Day (Jan. 1), and Newberry plans to straighten its ordinance to be clear and consistent, establishing when fireworks can be sold and used.
Marlowe warned the City Commission that the issue of fireworks has come up before and is a more contentious topic than he had expected. Marlowe said people with PTSD, autistic children and livestock have strong feelings about fireworks with mortars which make booming sounds.