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Costa Mesa official, firefighters dispute negotiation details

City chief executive says the firefighters outright rejected paying their full pension costs

association president contends that they haven't responded one way or another.

November 16, 2011|By Joseph Serna

COSTA MESA — Despite city CEO Tom Hatch's assertion to the contrary Tuesday, firefighters have not refused to pay their full portion toward their retirement plans, a firefighter association leader said Wednesday.

However, the city's firefighters haven't agreed to it either, said association President Tim Vasin.

He has yet to hear from the association membership on the issue.

Vasin was responding to Hatch's report at the City Council meeting that firefighters rebuked the city's request that they cover their full pension contribution — 15.8% — through 2014.

"We never rejected the 15%," Vasin said. "We didn't reject that whatsoever."

Firefighters were paying 5% toward their pensions until Nov. 5, when that requirement in their contract expired. Until a new agreement is reached, the city will have to cover the employees' portion of their pension, or $500,000 annually.

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According to Vasin, this could have all been avoided. He claims as early as Sept. 9, firefighters were offering to continue paying their 5% through February.

The city wasn't prepared to answer that, Vasin said.

He asserted that the city's negotiator didn't come back with his own offer until Monday — more than a week after employee contributions halted — and he requested firefighters pay their full share of 15.84%.

"Our response was we're open toward anything that helps the city restructuring, but that restructuring is going to take some time, and we can't say yes or no in a one-hour meeting," Vasin said.

He said firefighters upped their offer: They'll pay their 5% through June and leave the door open for more negotiations on pension contributions, if the city amends its layoff policy for two firefighter ranks.

City Hall rejected it.

While Vasin maintained that it's the city's fault a deal wasn't reached before the Nov. 5 deadline, Hatch on Wednesday reiterated that his report from Tuesday claiming that firefighters refused to pay their full pension contribution was accurate.

Such public disagreements could become more frequent, as Hatch adopts the city's new policy of airing out the terms of contract negotiations for the public.

In other action, the City Council approved a $150,000 contract with Huntington Beach to continue using its police helicopter through June, the city delayed appointing members to its TeWinkle Park Athletic Complex task force, and three more city services were put out for bidding.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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