EPFD: Health insurance costs outweigh wage increase

EL PASO, Texas – El Paso Association of Fire Fighters President Joe Tellez said the city’s proposed wage increase will not support a projected spike in health insurance premiums.

The average salary for an El Paso firefighter is around $36,000 a year. Despite being an ISO class 1 department and accredited through the Commission of Fire Accreditation International, EPFD fire fighters are among the lowest paid in Texas.

Over half of El Paso firefighters are covered by the “Buy Up,” or family plan.

“This is the most expensive plan the city offers. There are almost 500 firefighters on that plan and that plan — we were to see $340 a month increase with the city’s proposal in the first year,” Tellez said.

A firefighter on the “Buy Up” plan currently pays $2,917.20 a year for health insurance. The city’s proposed increase shows that by December 1, 2017, that same firefighter would pay $13,123.92 each year, or about one-third of a rookie’s salary.

“What we’re asking for we believe is fair. We’ve done our homework; the El Paso Fire Department is out of whack as far as the other larger cities in Texas –especially with starting pay,” Tellez said.

A wage increase was also part of the city’s proposal, offering a 2.25-percent salary increase over the next 4 years.

“We would see a 2.25 percent increase in salary over the four years with a health insurance increase of the most $1,100 a month,” Tellez said.

The El Paso Association of Fire Fighters proposed a 3 percent wage increase each year over the next three years.

At Monday’s special city council meeting, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez said EPFD’s proposal would require a 4-cent increase to the annual property tax rate.

CBS4 tried to contact city officials Wednesday, but hasn’t heard back.

City spokeswomanJuli Lozano told the El Paso Times the potential 4-cent property tax increase would affect the city budget by $13 million annually.