KALISPELL - Kalispell firefighters have worked out a new contract with the city and police now hope to ride their coattails to a successful negotiation of their own.
Both departments have been working without contracts since July 1. Firefighters, unlike police, are allowed by law to demand an independent mediator to decide contentious contract disputes. When a new collective bargaining agreement appeared beyond reach after several meetings, the firefighters did just that.
Police have requested a mediator, but so far, the city has refused.
In the interim, police called a "slowdown" in hopes of forcing the city's hand at the bargaining table. Since the slowdown began in August, court revenues have plummeted, as police officers have ceased writing many misdemeanor tickets. They maintain the slowdown will remain in effect until the city budges.
Some members of the police department have said they hope to take advantage of the firefighters' successful negotiations to forge a deal of their own. If they can get a similar offer, they said, they might be willing to sign off on a new deal.
City Attorney Glen Neier, however, would like to see the slowdown ended as a signal of good faith before talking dollars.
Despite their differences, police and city negotiators met Monday, just hours before the City Council was expected to ratify the firefighters' deal. There was no word on how those talks progressed.
The firefighters' three-year contract, which is retroactive to July 1, offers a base pay increase of 1.75 percent in the first year, followed by annual increases of 1.35 percent and 1.75 percent for the duration of the contract.
The city also will pick up some added health insurance costs and ante up extra pay for emergency medical training certification.
In fiscal year 1998, the city fire department totaled $775,232 of Kalispell's budget compared with $800,670 in the first year of the new contract.