Morgantown firefighters plea for action as new personnel rules loom

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – New personnel rules for Morgantown city employees take effect in July and some first responders are sounding alarms.

International Association of Firefighters Local 313 President Mitchell Beall told city council members when he started about 10 years ago it was one of the best fire service jobs in the state but that’s not the case now.

“Our benefit package was top notch. Now, our benefit package is almost eliminated, our pay is mediocre at best and we don’t lead anywhere across the state of West Virginia anymore,” Beall said.

Beall said firefighters are bracing for life changes that will come when new personnel rules kick in.

One firefighter with a spouse in the West Virginia National Guard was accustomed to using a combination of paid time off, sick leave and vacation time to watch their children while she is away training- that will no longer be allowed. According to the firefighter, he would be on unpaid status in order to take time off to watch his young children.

“They took away over half of our time off, all our sick time is gone and now when I take a day off I get penalized for that financially,” Beall said. “I really hope you take a look at the city personnel rules.”

Morgantown recently paid GovHR to complete a wage and compensation study to lay the groundwork for the personnel policy changes. According to the executive summary from City Manager Kim Haws, salaries for some employees increased by about $120,000 in the new budget as a result of the study.

However, members of the police and fire departments have said the net effect of the study doesn’t make the city more competitive. Beall said the pay reductions will result in good officers and firefighters leaving the city in the interest of their futures and families.

“South Charleston did the same study and told the consulting firm they have to be in the top 10 percent in the state be competitive,” Beall said. “We go to our consultant and say we just want to be average.”

Firefighters did not receive a cost of living increase last year but were granted the customary pay bump this year. Due to the elimination of hazard, shift differential and longevity pay, Beall believes the cost-of-living increase could be offset by thousands of dollars in lost wages.

“I can understand we can’t stay up with inflation- 15 percent this year and 10 percent last year,” Beall said. “So, you give me a cost-of-living adjustment of three percent, I’m sorry but, even if you didn’t give me that I’m still losing money from last year.”

Beall told councilors the Morgantown Fire Department is down five firefighters; independent reports have said the Morgantown Police Department is down about 20 officers. The changes in pay and benefits are making it much harder to bring trained first responders, or recruits to Morgantown, Beall said.

“Nobody is coming here in droves to apply for jobs anymore and we do want to be the premiere city to work for,” Beall said. “I love working for the city of Morgantown, I love living in Morgantown and it’s just very sad where we have gone.”

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