Fire Station 22, the city's newest, opened in March 2016.
Local firefighters turned in more than 29,000 signatures on Nov. 28 to force a ballot measure to change the city's Charter to allow firefighters collective bargaining powers. The measure would ban a labor strike, however.
The Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association needs only 15,907 valid signatures of city registered voters to secure a spot on the April 2 city election ballot. Voters also will elect a mayor and three at-large city councilors at that election.
"This is the first step in securing the protections fire fighters in Colorado Springs need to ensure public safety is always a priority in Colorado Springs," firefighters said in a release.
The campaign will be called Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs, which will emphasize the goal is to "keep service delivery high, to ensure that the city remains safe, and to ensure that the City of Colorado Springs attracts and retains high quality firefighters."
The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5 President Dave Noblitt tells the Indy
the campaign will kick off next month.
Local 5 has previously said Colorado Springs firefighters have the lowest salaries of any metro department in the state and the fewest firefighters per capita. Those firefighters must respond to incidents with engines that are 15 years old. Although voters approved the Public Safety Sales Tax dedicated to police and fire in 2001, revenues haven't been sufficient to satisfy all needs, Local 5 has said.
City Clerk Sarah Johnson has up to 30 days to determine if the petition is valid.
After the city previously asserted its home-rule powers insulate it from compliance with Senate Bill 25, approved by the 2013 Colorado General Assembly to allow firefighters to seek collective bargaining status, local firefighters decided to seek a change in the city Charter instead.
Every other major metro fire department (Denver, Fort Collins, Aurora and Pueblo) has obtained collective bargaining status.
Mayor John Suthers opposes firefighter collective bargaining, as do some Council members, including Jill Gaebler, who was endorsed by firefighters for her second term in 2017.
Gaebler tells the Indy
she's concerned the measure would give firefighters a right that no other department has. "Firefighters will say, 'We totally respect everyone having it,'" she says.
Noting firefighters' complaints that they're not given the same consideration as police officers, she says, "They have had a seat at the table like every other employee group, and they don’t ever seem to think they have enough voice, and I’m not sure this is going to make a difference. I think it’s really hard for the mayor and Council to balance the budget and all different needs of the city, and this puts everything out of line with one group. At the same time, I do worry about how public safety will be impacted as the city develops out east."
She was referring to the mayor's and Council's approval last spring of an amended annexation agreement for the 18,500-acre Banning Lewis Ranch where developers will be required to pay police and fire development fees that the city auditor has said will fall short of fully funding public safety requirements.
Council President Richard Skorman says in an interview he hopes firefighters are willing to allow Council to refer the measure to the ballot, so that a key provision can be changed. That provision would allow Council to be the arbiter in the case of an impasse between the mayor's office and firefighters over bargaining for pay, benefits and working conditions. The measure as proposed would allow voters to decide, which Skorman says could be costly and confusing.
"Are the voters really going to understand we need these many people on a hazmat truck, we need these fire engines added?" he asks.
Noblitt, with Local 5, says firefighters just want to ensure they get equal representation. "We hope to gain equal footing," he says.
Noblitt says signatures were gathered through paid solicitors as well as firefighters working on their own time. The campaign plans to spent about $250,000 trying to win passage of the measure.
Meanwhile, Suthers is the only mayoral candidate so far, and he's raised $107,729 as of Oct. 27 for his re-election campaign, according to campaign finance reports. Many of the larger donations to Suthers came from business people, contractors and developers.