By James Rufus Koren Staff Writer
Created: 04/14/2011 09:52:35 PM PDT

San Bernardino County firefighters have agreed to pay more toward their pension benefits and take smaller raises, but only if other unions agree to the same concessions.

The deal, approved Thursday by 98 percent of the county’s 344 firefighters, is expected to save the county $2.14 million per year. It’s part of a larger plan to cut rising pension costs by $30 million a year.

“County firefighters are hyperaware of the economic climate out there,” said Bret Henry, the president of the San Bernardino County Professional Firefighters, Local 395. “We’re living through the hard times as well. We’re interested in a balanced budget as much as everybody else.”

The key concession approved Thursday is that firefighters will start to pay all of the “employee share” of pension contributions.

The average firefighter’s share amounts to 10.6 percent of his or her annual pay, according to the county retirement board. For years, though, the county has been paying 7 percent of the employee share.

That means the average firefighter now pays 3.6 percent of his or her salary into the county pension fund. Under the deal approved Thursday, which takes effect July 2, firefighters will pay the full 10.6 percent.

Other concessions include taking smaller annual raises – 2.5 percent instead of 5 percent – and swapping a health-insurance benefit that counted toward pensions for one that doesn’t.

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