PORTAGE | The City Council narrowly approved a contract this week with Firefighters Local 3151.
The contract, Portage City Council President Sue Lynch said, is setting a dangerous precedent, endangering the city's financial well being and is a prime example why City Council members should have a seat at the bargaining table.
Lynch and council members Liz Modesto and Matt Scheuer voted against the contract. Council members Mark Oprisko, Pat Clem, John Cannon and Ted Uzelac voted for the contract.
The contract with firefighters was reopened when the city wanted to change health care network providers. A clause in the firefighters' contract required firefighters' approval for any such change.
Mayor James Snyder said the negotiations were necessary for the city to cut health care costs by a projected $500,000.
The contract, approved in May by the Board of Works, provides firefighters with premium-free health insurance.
Lynch said the city, facing a $1.7 million deficit in employee medical benefits, cannot afford to give the firefighters free health insurance. She said it is also unfair to other employee groups who pay premiums.
"All employees should have the same insurance and pay the same premiums," Modesto said.
Street and sanitation department employees also pay no health insurance premiums.
Clerk-treasurer Chris Stidham also emphasized the city's financial situation.
"I don't know how we are going to get through the year. We are on an unsustainable path," he said.
Oprisko said he voted in favor because an agreement already had been reached with firefighters and did not feel it would be fair to go back on that agreement now.