By Amanda Ensinger
A resident of Franklin Township has expressed concern with leadership over money spent on fire department employees.
At a recent board meeting, Mike Blevins questioned the trustees about a 2018 increase in longevity pay.
After questioning the rate a firefighter was paid, Blevins started examining the salaries of all township firefighters. According to Blevins, he discovered that in some cases, the township more than doubled its longevity pay.
Through a public records request, Blevins secured documentation that reportedly shows the Franklin Township Fire Department in 2017 paid employees $12,800 in longevity pay and in 2018 it paid employees more than $27,000.
“This longevity pay is a bonus employees of the fire department receive at the end of the year,” Blevins said. “The amount they are paid is based on the amount of years they have been with the fire department. The longer they stay with the township, the more they get paid.”
The resident said while he supports paying first responders for their service to the community, he was shocked when he saw the increase.
In late 2017 and early 2018, the township renegotiated the fire union’s contract and among the changes made in the agreement was the longevity pay employees are paid. In 2017, employees were paid a longevity pay of $400 if they worked with the department for five to nine years, $500 for 10 to 14 years, $600 for 15 to 19 years and $700 a year for 20 or more years.
The newest fire contract, which went into effect Feb. 28, 2018 and lasts until Feb. 28, 2021, now pays fire department employees $300 for three or more years, $500 for five or more years, $700 for seven or more years and 2 percent of their base annual salary for 10 or more years.
“This is not an effective use of taxpayers’ dollars,” Blevins said.
According to township officials, one of the reasons for this longevity pay increase is because the township’s firefighters are one of the lowest paid in Franklin County.
“We compared our firefighters’ pay with comparable communities in our region and we pay the lowest,” said Aryeh Alex, township trustee. “In order in keep employees, we need to pay them a fair salary and this was one way of doing that.”
Alex said that hiring new staff and training them is not only a time commitment, but a financial commitment. Retaining employees is in the best interest of taxpayers for a variety of reasons.
“We are not only safer when we have seasoned staff who have stayed with us for long periods, but we also save on the time it takes to train new employees,” Alex said. “Training employees takes time and money, so giving them an incentive to continue to stay with us is beneficial to the township.”
During the contract negotiations last year, Alex said that the union opted for an increase in their longevity pay. Instead firefighters received a smaller cost of living pay increase in exchange for a larger bonus at the end of the year.
“We are still in the bottom third of the county in pay for our first responders,” Alex said. “This increase was a step in the right direction, but we still have work to do here.”