Lori Consalvo, Staff Writer
Created: 01/12/2011 08:20:34 PM PST

MONTCLAIR – After a six-month deadlock, City Council members on Tuesday imposed a reduction of benefits for the city’s firefighters.

The unanimously passed decision will now require Montclair Firefighters Association members to pay two-thirds of the city’s contribution to their retirement fund for the next 12 months.

In addition, the city will reduce the amount they were paying toward firefighters’ health benefits for the next nine months.

“The city will now proceed with implementing the cost reductions to benefits,” City Manager Edward Starr said.

The cuts will be implemented in the next pay period.

The council’s decision followed pleas from union members to stop the cuts and implement a mediator to help both sides reach an agreement.

“We do recognize the economic climate that we’re in and that the city is financially challenged, but we’re still disappointed,” said Rusty Vidal, the union’s lead negotiator.

Following the meeting, Vidal said union members are bracing for the impending financial impact.

“The only positive is now they understand a little bit more about who we are and what we do,” he said.

Montclair’s 2010-11 fiscal year budget included a $1.3 million revenue shortfall. The City Council requested a round of personnel-related wage and benefit reductions for management employees as well as members of the Montclair Firefighters Association and the San Bernardino Public Employees Association.

“Management and SBPEA employees quickly settled with the city and accepted the 9.85 percent reduction but MFFA and the city were unable to settle,” Starr said Tuesday.

The city and the firefighters’ union reached an impasse in September.

In the next month, Starr met with negotiators from the firefighters’ union and proposed another option, which was also rejected.

“We feel the city has asked too much of us, that’s why we can’t come to an agreement,” Vidal said.

During the negotiations, union members said they offered to give up holiday time and their educational grants to save the city money.

“But the city refused our ideas,” Vidal said.

City officials said those reductions would not save the city enough money.

Vidal said when the two sides started meeting, fire union negotiators were told they were responsible for $117,000 of the budget shortfall, but at the last meeting, the number was changed to $128,000.

City officials never specified a number and union members totaled up the numbers on their own, Starr said.

“We’re hoping that by going through this process, we can have a more positive relationship and full disclosure for future negotiations,” Vidal said.

“We’re hoping that next time it’s better, but at least we had an opportunity to present our side to the council.”

One Montclair resident took to the podium Tuesday night to support the union. George Gutierrez, 39, said he was against the cuts because he wanted firefighters “to be happy to protect us.”

“We have a lot of needs and we need individuals to look out for us,” Gutierrez said.

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