MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Changes proposed to firefighter pay in Morgantown are in step with compliance for the implementation of Senate Bill 557, sponsored by Mike Oliverio, R. Monongalia, 12. The law, which took effect 90 days after passage, dictates that municipalities must compensate firefighters who are required to work holidays for their entire shift, even if the work shift spans two calendar days.

On WAJR’s “Talk of the Town,” an attorney representing the members of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 313 said the city has been fighting in court over holiday since June of 2019, when the first lawsuit was filed.

In a memo dated June 11, City Manager Kim Haws announced the holiday pay changes along with two moves within the department he said would require paying for an “unfunded mandate.” Each firefighter will be given a “bank” of holiday hours they can use throughout the year for holidays. At the end of the fiscal year, any unused time is paid to the firefighter at a rate of one-and-a-half times.

“The city wants the public to blame the firefighters because the city is being forced through a lot of fighting and many years of struggle to do holiday pay according to the firefighter’s shift of 24-hours; that’s what this is about,” Toriseva said.

The memo said that beginning July 1, minimum crew sizes for Morgantown firefighters will drop from 15 to 13, and the city will propose an increase to fire fees to pay for the plan. Because firefighters can choose between time off and premium pay, Haws said it was impossible to project what option they might select, so the city plans to double the anticipated expense for that budget item.

“The firefighters allege that is actually being done in retaliation because they are standing up for their rights to be paid according to the law like every other professional firefighter in the state of West Virginia,” Toriseva said.

The proposal comes as councilors debated the first raise for that elected body in about 20 years. The debate was not about the bottom line for the cost but about how much of a pay raise would be needed for Morgantown in the median range of compensation for other similar-sized towns. The plan approved by councilors increases the pay for the mayor from $350 to $450 per meeting and from $250 to $350 for council members.

“If the money is tight and there is so much trouble in the city of Morgantown, then why did the city council vote themselves a 25 percent raise just a few weeks ago?” Toriseva said.

Toriseva questioned if the increased revenue from the increase in fire fees would make it to the department or if it would remain in the general fund. She speculated that the city is using the fire fee tactic as a way to negatively portray the fire department to the public.

“Is this really going to be assessed and directly go to the fire department in Morgantown?” Toriseva asked. “Or does this so-called fire fee go into the general fund and just become a tax?”

Toriseva said there are many municipalities that have used West Virginia Code Chapter 8, which dictates the rules relating to personnel rules for firefighters. Other communities like Charleston, Weirton, and Huntington have reached settlements with their fire departments in similar matters instead of continuing litigation.

“There’s a framework for the fire service in West Virginia, and when you follow that framework, the public is safer,” Toriseva said. “It’s not things that people make up according to their mood or whim.”

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