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A majority of the Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday night voted to change the rate at which Fire Department vacation time is used in order to make it equitable with that of all standard 40-hour City of Spring Hill employees.

The ordinance, which passed on second reading with a 5-3 vote with one alderman absent, takes effect Jan. 1, 2016. Mayor Rick Graham noted the challenge and complexity of the issue.

“This is one of those times when it is not pleasurable to sit on this board,” Mayor Graham said. “It’s a time when we must each weigh out what is right for our city and all of our associates on city payroll. It is easy to make those decisions that benefit everyone and we all love those times. Unfortunately, this is not one of those times and we had to do what was right and equitable for all, as we were elected to do.”

The issue surfaced at the BOMA’s January board retreat, where aldermen directed City Administrator Victor Lay to seek a solution to a continuing issue with excessive overtime pay within the department. It related to staffing issues in regard to regularly having fire personnel on leave time and attending training, which caused other fire personnel to work overtime.

Administrator Lay recommended requiring fire employees to take their vacation time at the same rate as city employees. Currently, when firefighters use vacation time, they are charged only at a half-rate or 12 hours though they work 24-hour shifts to earn vacation time, according to the current city employee handbook.

Effectively, that means firefighters receive twice as many hours of vacation time as standard 40-hour employees, allowing firefighters to earn up to eight weeks of vacation time after 10 years on the job, compared to a maximum of four weeks vacation for a standard employee in the same time period.

Working 24-hour shifts means firefighters work 40 percent more total hours per year than standard employees but are currently receiving 100 percent more in vacation benefits. In response, the board’s vote changed the rate at which firefighters will take vacation time to ensure it is awarded equitably to the number of hours worked.

[quote font_size=”16″ bgcolor=”#” color=”#” bcolor=”#” arrow=”yes”]“If this situation was reversed, and we were increasing the fire department’s benefits to make it equitable for all, it would be easier and we would have completed it a lot quicker and with probably 100 percent consensus,” Mayor Graham said. “But, that was not the case this time.”[/quote]

“We cannot afford this rich benefit program and raise the other city associates to the fire department’s level, so we had to find a solution that provides an equitable level for all,” Mayor Graham said. “I favored this ordinance for that reason. I want to thank the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for their courage in making the difficult decisions, and I always have huge gratitude to all of our first responders for their service to our city. I realize it is difficult for everyone to understand our decision, but I felt we did our absolute best for all concerned.”

The BOMA will continue discussing the matter over the next three months to ensure it is proper implemented.

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