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Frisco voters to consider adding civil service protections, collective bargaining for firefighters

Frisco voters to consider adding protections, benefits for firefighters in May 4 election
Frisco voters to consider adding protections, benefits for firefighters in May 4 election 05:19

FRISCO — Frisco Firefighters Association President Matthew Sapp told CBS News Texas after city leaders rejected using meet and confer to discuss their pay and benefits, their members decided to go directly to the residents. 

Sapp said, "We took an oath to do what we felt was right for our citizens and our firemen and that's what we're doing. We got six thousand signatures from our citizens to put Proposition A and B on the ballot."

If approved by voters during the May 4 municipal election in Frisco, Prop A would institute civil service protections for firefighters, which would provide set rules for hiring, firing, and promotions and establish a citizens committee. 

Prop B would provide collective bargaining over pay, benefits, and workplace conditions between firefighters and the city. 

If they can't agree, it would go to arbitration. 

Lockouts and strikes are not allowed under state law. 

Sapp said, "The concern is for staffing because we're not running the national staffing standard. We're running about 62 minimum. We should be running about 78 firefighters on duty at any given time and our response time is kind of ballooning." 

Bill Woodard, a Frisco City Council Member since 2016, opposes both propositions along with Mayor Jeff Cheney, the other council members, and the Frisco Chamber of Commerce. 

Woodard told CBS News Texas, "I am part of a group Safety First Frisco that is leading the charge on the vote no campaign for this."

He said the city doesn't need collective bargaining and civil service.

"Frisco is a target right now. We're the largest city in the State of Texas without civil service and collective bargaining in some form or fashion. So, I think that's why we're being targeted right now. And we're growing to be a big city, but Frisco doesn't need the big city problems that unions bring," said Woodard.

Sapp said this is not an effort to boost salaries and benefits, but staffing to keep up with the city's growth, which includes the new PGA Headquarters, resort, and golf courses, along with the soon to be built Universal Kids Resort theme park and hotel. 

"I think if you look at the fact that we've been increasing the population, we've been increasing in size and the scope of what we're building in Frisco, but we haven't added a firefighter in three or four years, that should give some people concern." 

He said the association believes the city should add a fourth firefighter to each engine and truck on each of the department's three shifts. 

That adds up to 36 additional firefighters which he said can be done over a period of time. 

City documents show it would cost the city more than $7.2 million for firefighters' salaries and benefits, their uniforms and gear, and overtime. 

Sapp said it would reduce response times, "If you have more staffing, then your response time can be better." 

When asked about the fire association's request to increase staffing Woodard said, "It is not inadequate. We have an ISO 1 rating, our fire department is certified by the national accrediting agency, we're in the top one percent of fire departments nationwide. If we were understaffed, we wouldn't have those accreditations." 

On its website, the city says out of the more than 27,000 professional and voluntary fire departments in the U.S., Frisco is one of only 117 fire agencies to be both internationally accredited and awarded the ISO 1 rating. 

The city says that rating helps home and business owners receive lower insurance costs. 

Woodard acknowledged the city's response times have increased slightly recently. 

He told us the way to reduce response times is to continue building new fire stations. "Absolutely, because you put the equipment and personnel closer to where it needs to be when a call comes in." 

A city spokeswoman said it will add 12 firefighters when fire station 10 opens near the PGA headquarters in the spring of 2025. 

Fire station 11 is being designed now and will open in a couple of years after that. 

On its website, the firefighter's association says the two propositions wouldn't necessarily increase costs or taxes. 

But when asked, Sapp acknowledged costs would go up if a third-party arbitration panel were to require the city to increase the number of firefighters. "Yes, of course, staffing would cost the city money regardless of which department it is in. I think the goal of course of us and the hope would be the city is to find a collaborative effort how that staffing comes to pass." 

Woodard said he's worried that if approved, collective bargaining would end up in arbitration and could bust the city's budget. "Then you've got a third-party arbiter who's not going to live in the city of Frisco, not going to know anything about the city of Frisco, what we've built or the way we operate. He's going to make a decision and that decision is binding on everybody at that point. That gives council two choices: if it doesn't fit in the budget, then they'll either have to raise the taxes or they have to cut services in other departments." 

Early voting for the May 4 municipal elections begins Monday, April 22.

Watch Eye On Politics at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning on CBS News Texas on air and streaming.

Follow Jack on X: @cbs11jack

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