NASHUA - The Board of Aldermen approved a five-year firefighters pact Tuesday over some members' objections that the vote should have been delayed.
The contract wasn't on the meeting agenda, denying the public the right to comment about an expensive, complex settlement, some aldermen argued.
Ultimately, the contract was approved unanimously. But aldermen split over whether to hold a vote Tuesday night.
Ward 5 Alderman Michael Tabacsko moved to depart from the meeting agenda and to give the contract a second reading. His motion was approved by a show of hands.
Later, Ward 1 Alderman Mark Cookson sought to table the contract. His motion failed by 6-9. Joining Cookson in wanting to delay the vote were Aldermen-at-Large David Deane and Fred Teeboom and ward Aldermen Paul M. Chasse Jr., Richard Flynn and Dave MacLaughlin.
Voting on the contract that evening denied the public the right to comment and didn't allow some board members to prepare comments, Deane said.
"I think it sets a precedent we don't need to be setting," Deane said.
At issue was the requirement for the board to dispose of the contract - to approve or reject it - within 30 days of its first reading. That first reading was on March 10, Alderman-at-Large Steven Bolton said.
However, the next regular meeting of the board is scheduled for April 14, four days past the deadline.
Cookson and Deane argued that a special meeting could be called before the deadline to allow the board to vote on the contract.
In remarks at the end of the meeting, Bolton said he would have called a special meeting had the contract not been voted on that evening.
Cookson said he was pleased that firefighters finally received a contract, but added that he was disappointed in the process.
Tabacsko said concerns about the 30-day deadline occurred to him Monday night after he talked with Tim Soucy, president of Local 789 of the International Association of Firefighters.
Some board members - including Cookson - said they found about Tabacsko's plans to request a vote Tuesday shortly before the meeting began.
This is the second time a firefighters contract came to the board of aldermen. In October, aldermen narrowly approved a settlement only to see the cost items vetoed by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau.
That contract would have required a supplemental appropriation of $650,000 to fund. The renegotiated contract carries only an extra $10,000, which the fire department's budget can absorb, Teeboom said.
Lozeau has said she would endorse the new agreement.
The approved contract, which covers 165 firefighters and related departmental jobs, extends retroactively from Fiscal Year 2007 to Fiscal Year 2011.
It contains a zero percent raise for Fiscal Year 2007, 4 percent for 2008, 3.5 percent for 2009, 2.5 percent for 2010 and 2.5 percent for 2011.
The contract contains union health-care concessions, such as increasing firefighters' co-pay from 5-10 percent. Over the five years, the settlement is estimated to cost the city between $81 million and $84 million, including wages and benefits.
"Taxpayers have some things to be thankful for in this contract," Teeboom said, adding, "This is a very lucrative contract for the firefighters."
About a dozen firefighters attended the meeting, and none spoke during the public comment period.
Following the board's vote, Soucy said this was the most difficult contract he had ever negotiated in his 17 years with the union.
"It was a long process. Both sides made concessions," Soucy said.
He said the firefighters hadn't received a raise in three years. Key was firefighters receiving the $1.24 million contingency set aside in the current fiscal year budget for raises, while agreeing to accept lesser raises in the later years of the contract because of the economic downturn.
This article appears in the March 13 2009 issue of New Hampshire Business Review