Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What's true and what's false about claims on firefighters' Issue 1?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2019 at 10:17 AM

click to enlarge The only issue on the April 2 city ballot asks voters to decide whether to give firefighters collective bargaining rights. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The only issue on the April 2 city ballot asks voters to decide whether to give firefighters collective bargaining rights.
What's true? What's false? And what lies somewhere in between?

When it comes to political ads, it's hard to discern fact from fiction, so we'll try to help voters by dissecting campaign literature from time to time.

Today, we'll look at the claims made by the Citizens Against Public Employee Unions (CAPEU), a political committee formed by Mayor John Suthers and the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC, to oppose Issue 1 on the April 2 city election ballot. The measure would provide firefighters with collective bargaining rights.

(Note to our readers: We also looked at statements made by the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5 and Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs in their campaign ads, but found that their campaign literature is less specific and, therefore, trickier to fact check. For example, one flier says, "It's time to give our trusted public safety professionals a stronger voice to keep our families, businesses and community safe." Another says, "How many firefighters should respond when you call 911? ... Is our equipment up to date and will it protect firefighters and save lives?" And then the flier states, "...vote #YESon1 to make Colorado Springs Firefighters your voice on public safety.")

Here's a look at the vote "no" literature:

• Claim: If the firefighters' bargaining agent and city leadership can't agree on labor terms, a special election would be required, at a cost of $500,000 to Colorado Springs taxpayers. (It's worth noting that some fliers have a little blue arrow next to the $500,000 figure, indicating "up to" $500,000.)

Actually: A dispute over any number of issues wouldn't automatically trigger an election. Rather, if a stand-off emerges, "the issues are to be submitted to a fact-finder," the ballot measure states. That fact-finder would be mutually agreed to by the parties.

The ballot measure goes on to say, if the city or Local 5 refuses to accept the fact-finder's decision, the issue in dispute "shall be presented to and decided by the voters" at a special election "with the cost of the special election to be paid by the party not accepting the fact-finder's decision."  (Emphasis added.) If both parties reject the fact-finder's finding, then the cost of the election is shared by the city and Local 5.

As for the election's cost, City Clerk Sarah Johnson reports that the April 2 election will cost the city $350,000, though "postage increases, labor costs for election judges, and so on might make the final cost higher."

Incidentally, Local 5 tells the Indy that voters in Colorado have never had to foot the bill for a special election to decide terms of a firefighters' contract.

* CAPEU response via email: Almost all impasse special elections around the country result from the city contesting the arbitration result. According to [El Paso County Clerk and Recorder] Chuck Broerman, the cost of postage alone for a special election is $450,000, plus the labor costs for clerk and recorder staff and election judges. [The county does not conduct city elections; the city conducts its own elections.]

• Claim: More than 50 percent of the city budget is devoted to public safety, which is more than most cities our size.


Actually: There are some cities in Colorado that spend less than half their general fund budgets on public safety. See the CAPEU statement below. But there also are many cities who, like Colorado Springs, spend more than half the general fund budget on public safety. Those include Kansas City, Mo., 76 percent; Dallas, 60 percent; Austin, 67 percent; Phoenix, 76 percent; Fresno, California, 58 percent, and Omaha, Nebraska, about 69 percent.

* CAPEU: Some examples in Colorado: Aurora, Boulder, Ft. Collins.
[CAPEU didn't provide the percentages, but the
Indy looked them up: Aurora, 47.6 percent; Boulder, 37 percent, and Fort Collins, 44 percent. Fort Collins doesn't have its own fire department but rather provides at least 70 percent of the funding for Poudre Fire Authority.]

• Claim: From 2016-2021, the city is adding another 52 people in the fire department, including 44 line firefighters.

Actually: While this statement is true, it suggests the staffing needs for the Fire Department have been dealt with. Local 5 notes, "At the end of 2019, we will have 451 assigned firefighters, 2 less positions than in 2008. We will add 12 more to that total bringing us to 463, but that is due to the addition of the Cimarron Hills fire protection district and their 12 spots. We [are] fundamentally still short of where we were 12 years ago."

* CAPEU: Asked to comment on Local 5's comment, the "vote no" committee provided this:
12 firefighters (1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants, 3 Driver Engineers, 3 Paramedics, and 3 Firefighters) were added in 2017 to permanently staff Fire Station #22
1 Wildfire Mitigation Maintenance Technician added in 2017
3 Fire Inspectors, one in each year, 2016, 2017, and 2018
8 Firefighters added in 2018
1 Full time Recruiter added in 2018
1 Senior Office Specialist added in 2018
8 Firefighters will be added in 2019, 2020 and 2021
• Claim: Line firefighter pay has increased 16% in the last four years, from $68,000 to $80,000, plus overtime, far exceeding the average salary in Colorado Springs of $47,000.

Actually: These numbers are accurate, Local 5 says, but states the collective bargaining measure is not about pay but rather having a say in various funding and safety issues.

Want to learn more about Issue 1?

The League of Women Voters will host a forum on Issue 1 at 6 p.m. Monday, March 18, at Penrose Library's Columbine Room, 20 N. Cascade Ave.

John Roy, deputy campaign manager for the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters will speak for the measure. Suthers will speak against the measure. Both also will answer questions from the audience.
If you have an item of interest about the April 2 city election, let us know at zubeck@csindy.com

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