City restores 2.5% in health benefits for workers

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comJuly 17, 2013 

cpride@losbanosenterprise.com

The Los Banos Fire Department and the city's non-unionized workers, such as public works and the finance department, saw bigger paychecks effective July 1 as the city resumed a portion of its contribution to benefits packages.

On July 3, the City Council voted to approve a new contract with the Los Banos Fire Fighters Association and change its policy and procedures manual for miscellaneous employees. The move eliminates a 2.5 percent salary contribution to employees Cafeteria Plan for health, vision and dental insurance. The decline in salary contributions, which equates to $50,000 for the city, is retroactive to the beginning of the fiscal year.

In 2010, public safety employees conceded an 11.5 percent salary deduction, including a 9 percent pension contribution and a 2.5 percent increase in funds for health insurance. The same year, the contribution figure for non-union city employees was increased to 10.5 percent.

Buoyed by indications of increased home building and higher sales tax projections, city officials believe now is the time to start easing the financial burden it asked its employees to carry after the local housing market collapsed.

"We certainly don't think it's cause for celebration, but we feel like we're making a turn in the economy," City Manager Steve Carrigan said.

He said the city is in negotiations with all of Los Banos' other unions and he is hopeful some type of deal can be worked out with them as well.

The city has not provided salary step increases or cost of living adjustments, called COLAs, for the past three years. Although salaries are still frozen, Carrigan said it is important to provide workers with a reason to remain employed by Los Banos.

"I'm a firm believer that it's time to reinvest in our employees, because we don't need an exodus. Our biggest concern is it's been three or four years since they've seen anything," Carrigan said.

Mayor Mike Villalta concurred.

"It is clear we are still on the road to recovery but just as we have continued to maintain our roads, our drinking water and city facilities and services, we must also invest in our most valued resource, our employees," Villalta said.

The City Council credits city staff with keeping Los Banos afloat during some bleak years financially.

"The past four years have been a difficult time for everyone, and we recognize that those employee givebacks are a big reason we've remained financially viable," Councilwoman Elizabeth Stonegrove said.

Councilman Scott Silveira also expressed gratitude.

"I'm very grateful to the Fire Department and all of the other employees in the city. We really do appreciate it and as things get better in the city, we're going to try to do more," Silveira said.

Carrigan said although he is reluctant to put a time frame on when the entire contribution increase from 2010 may be eliminated, he hopes it's before the next five to 10 years.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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