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The Texarkana, Texas, firefighters union on Tuesday presented new contract proposals—including pay raises—during the latest session of collective bargaining negotiations with the city.

The most significant of the union's requests were raises and a detailed procedure for resolving grievances. The proposed contract would keep in place current retirement, insurance, vacation, sick leave, holiday, incentive pay, certification pay, swap time and work hours policies.

A consultant retained by the firefighters presented results of her compensation market analysis and offered recommendations for the city to reach competitive pay.

Vonda Kelly Smith concluded that, depending on rank and experience level, Texarkana, Texas, Fire Department compensation would have to increase between 19.2% and 45.9% to reach her recommended market rate, with most suggested increases approximately 20% to 25%.

She reached those figures by comparing Texarkana's firefighter pay with the average of seven Texas cities that city staff have in the past also used for comparisons—Denison, Longview, Lufkin, Marshall, Nacogdoches, Paris and Sherman. Smith also included Greenville and Tyler, which she said made the comparison more statistically accurate. Best practice is to set pay rates as close to market averages as possible, she said.

The recommended pay raises would increase the TTFD budget by $624,524, or 9.5%, in Fiscal Year 2020, which begins Oct. 1.

The city's negotiating team asked questions about whether Texarkana can accurately be compared with other cities whose fire departments bear the expense of providing ambulance service, face stiffer employment competition from neighboring cities, employ fewer firefighters and have other differences.

Under the union's proposal, a firefighter's grievance regarding the new contract would start a multi-step, escalating process. If a ruling by the fire chief did not resolve the issue, an appeal would be made to the city manager, then to non-binding mediation and finally to binding arbitration.

The meeting was set aside for the union team's presentation, and the city will offer its counterproposals during the next session, scheduled for July 15. Another meeting is slated for Aug. 5. In a change from last year, all meetings will be held in the City Council chambers at City Hall, and video of the meetings will be live-streamed on the city's website.

A City Council vote on approving the FY 2020 budget will take place Sept. 9.

In 2018, multiple meetings and an attempt at third-party mediation went nowhere. Union members voted against accepting a contract proposed by the city, rejecting it as unresponsive to firefighters' concerns about pay, staffing levels, working conditions and disciplinary procedures, among other issues. The city rejected the union's request to resolve disagreements through binding arbitration.

In November 2016, Texas-side voters elected to allow TTFD to engage in collective bargaining. Firefighters later chose the union, IAFF Local 367, aka the Texarkana Professional Firefighters Association, as their representative in employment talks.

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