PRINCETON — Three grievances have been filed with the Princeton Fire Territory board of trustees regarding a change in how overtime pay is calculated, and the board may consider paying for a third-party audit to reconcile the issue.
Board member Scott Horn, a retired firefighter, brought up the issue at Monday afternoon’s meeting, attended by 18 of the fire territory’s 22 firefighters.
Horn said the pay structure was changed with no written information ahead of time to explain why or how the calculation was determined.
Fire territory attorney Daniel Moon said the Princeton Clerk-Treasurer’s Office issues payroll, and “my understanding is that the clerk who issues payments made a decision to what constitutes overtime. There was no motion made or position adopted by this board that happened at a public meeting,” he said, although the issue of overtime pay has been brought up at public meetings.
“The Clerk-Treasurer’s Office expressed its position as far as how overtime was being claimed, and the fire territory board is aware of the clerk’s position on that,” he said. “I think one of the things the fire territory board is looiing at is having a third party audit performed — someone who is not from the city, so we can get a completely neutral party looking at it.”
Moon said any firefighter who files a grievance will be given a hearing before the PFT board of trustees. “The board will make a ruling on whether or not any claimed overtime was appropriately or inappropriately withheld.”
Patoka Township Trustee Phyllis Ernst, who serves on the PFT board of trustees, said “I think it’s an option to bring someone else into the fold who is not involved with the fire territory or city, who can make a recommendation. I think we’re all learning a lot from this.”
Firefighter Justin Hyneman, who said he provides the Clerk-Treasurer’s office with the information on overtime hours, said the calculation used by firefighters has been in place for decades. “If it’s illegal and we’ve been doing it for years, are they going to want back pay for that?”
“I don’t think anybody has contemplated at this time asking to get back pay. Any request for that would be subject to your rights in the contract,” said Moon.
Moon asked trustees not to discuss any decision where grievances have been filed at Monday’s meeting, since they are the body that will hear evidence presented in a grievance hearing.
Indiana Professional Firefighters Union President Tom Hanify said the Fair Labor Standards Act governs how overtime pay is calculated. He said local firefighters don’t have anything in writing from the Princeton Clerk-Treasurer’s Office on how the change in calculations was made, and asked that it be provided in writing.
“If you’re going to back out hours, there’s financial ramifications,” he said. “After 35 years of something that was negotiated and appears suddenly changed without anything in writing, we can’t get an opinion on whether it’s correct according to standards or not. But we do know it’s wrong to have a contract in effect and to change it. We’d asked the board not to do it.
“You’re in the middle of a contract,” he said, noting the city passed the salary ordinance. “I’m asking on behalf of members of the firefighters local to at least get what’s been done in writing.”
Ernst said the board hopes to be able within a week or so to find someone to look into the issue.
Firefighters said they want to be present during the audit to explain the practice and how it was negotiated, noting no prior audits have shown anything done incorrectly or illegally.
Horn said he was at the original meeting in 1985 or 1986 when the firefighter contract was first negotiated. “Everything has always passed muster in audits. It’s always been OK for 35 or better years and now it’s not. Every paycheck that goes on, we’re going to have more grievances,” he said. “I wish this hadn’t gotten involved with the auditor.”
Moon said firefighters and the fire territory board can seek a written reasoning from the clerk, and an independent audit would be acceptable if that’s what the board wants to do. “I think we’ve got to figure out who to use and how to do it. This is a, discussion stage, not necessarily an authorization,” he said. “We certainly will seek out the written reasoning and at a hearing, the clerk would bear the burden of showing why that was appropriate.
“The grievance hearing is the process,” he said. “You guys want answers and that’s fair. I don’t think the board an give them tonight. They will need to hear evidence,” he said, but he said board members can’t “take a hard position tonight” before going through the hearing process.
In other business, the fire board and PFT Chief Mike Pflug honored retired firefighter Tim Speedy for 26 years of service with the department. Pflug thanked Speedy for his mentorship and friendship over the course of his career as he presented a commemorative plaque. Speedy got a standing ovation from fellow firefighters and the fire board for his service.
The board also honored Andy Memmer and Nick Medler for 16 years of service with the fire department.
• With no bids received for the sale of a surplus ladder truck, the board tabled further action on whether to try to sell it again.
• Ernst reported the revised standard operating guidelines for the department are being reviewed and should be ready for approval in May.
• Pflug said he’s looking for more bids for work to correct a sinkhole at Station 3 on Outer South Main Street.
• The board accepted a proposed contract with Moon that spells out attorney fees, but it is subject to approval by the Princeton Board of Public Works and Safety. The contract stipluates a $1,000 payment per quarter each year, with an hourly rate for extra work. Ernst said the new contract would require appropriation of about $5,500 to cover additional hours worked over the course of the year.
Mayor Greg Wright, who is also a member of the board of works, abstained from voting on the contract.
• Moon reported that three applications for PFT chief and 12 firefighter applications have been received. No action has been taken to schedule a board meeting to interview fire chief candidates yet.