Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online news service

Lake City News

Third Round of LC Firefighter Negotiations Lays Groundwork for Monday's City-Union Match-Up  

City Labor Attorney Eric Holshouser appeared remotely for the negotiations.

LAKE CITY, FL – Monday's City-Lake City Fire Union negotiations were focused on moving forward toward the issue of firefighter pay and retainment. While the City seemed to grasp it was losing experienced firefighters to other communities, it wasn't entirely clear if it wanted to do something about it.


Lake City's firefighters showed up to support their union during the negotiations. Union Secretary-Treasurer Josh Morris in foreground.

More on the 2020 LCFF union negotiations:
Lake City Firefighters Set to Vote On Union Contract. Should They Be Treated Like Other City Employees?
September 30, 2020
Lake City Firefighter Negotiations Hobbled by Continuing City Failure to Provide Timely Access to Contract Documents
August 14, 2020
Third Round of LC Firefighter Negotiations Lays Groundwork for Monday's City-Union Match-Up
August 6, 2020
City Labor Atny to Firefighters: "We understand your position is the firefighters are underpaid."
July 30, 2020

The 2020 fire department payroll was cut a little over $40,000 from the 2019 payroll. It is not clear if this portends things to come as the City is still working on the finishing touches of its proposed 2021 budget.

The bad deal of the Blanche project continues to strangle City finances leaving the City with virtually no discretionary revenue or spending ability.

This is not new, as during the Johnson [City Manager Wendell Johnson] era, the only way union members could see more money was through a circuitous shape-shifting of hours which put more money in the pockets of the firefighters without adding to City payroll costs.

During the current negotiating cycle, the union is looking to make its contract transparent and straight forward.

Last Monday's Negotiations

Fire Chief Randall Burnham

Monday's negotiations went smoothly without ruffled feathers with both sides looking to explain their positions to the other side to remove any confusion or misunderstandings.

In what appeared to be an effort to save the City money and at the same time to protect union members, the union proposed that anytime there were mandatory call-ins due to a state of emergency or a disaster, the firefighters would get hour-for-hour comp time.

The union and the City are also working to iron out the rules regarding probationary officers being given a second chance after failing a test before being sent out the door.

This will come up at the next negotiation.

Austin Thomas

There were also revisions proposed by the union regarding positions and various certifications affecting pay. This should be revisited at the next negotiation.

When the City's labor attorney Eric Holshouser compared firefighters to general employees, union negotiator and VP Austin Thomas said, "I don't think there is any comparison to a general employee and a firefighter. There is no similarity."


The City negotiators recessed into a caucus to discuss firefighter pay.

After they came back Attorney Holshouser said, "We will make some concessions in our next proposal, but we haven't fine-tuned how they are going to read."

Post-Meeting Comments

After the meeting Union VP Austin Thomas spoke about the first-class equipment of the department and why it is important to retain and train employees.

He said, "We have top-notch equipment at the Lake City Fire Department. They are talking about putting $2.2 million into another station. Our fire trucks are almost half a million dollar fire trucks. We have state of the art equipment. We have equipment out of the 'wazoo', but how good is that equipment if the man using that equipment simply doesn't know how simply because of lack of experience. We have to maintain and keep the experience we have so the state of the art equipment can actually be used the way it is supposed to be."

City Manager Helfenberger concentrates during the negotiations.

City Manager Joe Helfenberger spent a few minutes with your reporter after the meeting.

The Observer asked, "How did you think it went today?"

City Manager Helfenberger answered, "I thought it was positive."

The Observer asked, "Is the City in the position to give them any more money? I noticed in the proposed budget that the fire department budget is down $50,000?" [These were the numbers from 2019 to 2020. The actual amount was a payroll reduction of $40,281.]

City Manager Helfenberger replied, "We have to make sure that anything we do is sustainable. We have to make sure that the fire fees cover the fire cost and with the revenue that we have available that we have a well-managed department. We have to cost the options out and not shoot from the hip."

The City Manager continued, "We will get back to them as soon as we get it costed out. We pretty much know where we would like to go."


On Monday, August 10, the City is supposed to come up with a pay proposal.

At that time, the firefighters will find out where the City is going and if it is in the direction of where both the union and many citizens want it to go. 

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.