The layoffs are the first time in recent memory that the city has reduced its number of firefighters. In a news release today, Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for Mayor Francis Slay, said that the administration was left with no other choice.
"We cannot spend money we do not have," said Rainford. "State law gives us no flexibility. So, we have to lay off firefighters so we have enough money for their pensions."
Under the proposed spending increase, the Fireman's Retirement System is set to rise by more than $7,400 per member next year. The department currently has 631 members.
In its dispatch to local media today, the mayor's office stated that it was able to avoid layoffs in the police department because Chief Dan Isom re-worked the department's budget and police have agreed to changes designed to reduce future cost increases for their pension. Likewise, civilian employees with the city have agreed to changes to their pension. Still those pensions also will increase next year by $2.5 million for police and $1.7 million for civilian employees. Those pensions also have at least double the members of the fireman's pension.
The mayor's office contends that it has met with firefighters and mediators to no avail since last summer to find a way to keep that pension from going up.
"Many of our citizens don't have jobs. Some who have jobs don't have a pension or a 401(k). It is not right to ask them to pay more in taxes or get less in services to make up for investment losses in the Fireman's Retirement System," stated Rainford.
According to the city, pension costs for firefighters have increased 254 percent since 2001 and now average $33,405 per firefighter per year, accounting for 32 percent of the department's budget.
St. Louis plans to fire 30 firefighters -- the most it can terminate without closing engine houses -- in anticipation of the fire department's pension fund increasing by $4.7 million next fiscal year.