Chesterton Tribune



Local 4600 in settlement agreement with Chesterton

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More than a year and a half ago, in February 2019, Chesterton Fire Department Local 4600 of the International Association of Firefighters filed a six-count lawsuit in federal court against the Town of Chesterton, alleging--among other things--that for nine years the town failed to compensate firefighters appropriately for overtime and that it acted with “malice” when it changed its policy on the use of “reduction days.”

Local 4600 has now settled its suit against the town, under an agreement unanimously approved by the Town Council at its meeting Monday night.

Three of the six counts filed against the town concerned reduction days: paid days off to reduce a department’s overtime liability. “Traditionally"--according to the lawsuit--firefighers under CFD policy have been able to use their four annually allotted reduction days “the same as their vacation time or as needed.” That policy was subsequently changed by Fire Chief John Jarka, who began to require firefighters, under the terms of Local 4600’s 2019 contract with the town, to use only one reduction day per quarter and to schedule that day ahead of time. Doing so, Local 4600 alleged in the suit, “greatly inhibit(ed) and restrict(ed) firefighters’ ability to use” those days, as well as constituted “malice, fraud, gross negligence, and/or oppressiveness.”

(Perhaps not surprisingly, when other municipal employees learned last year that firefighters receive four more paid personal-leave days per year than they did, they made their unhappiness known to the Town Council, which in December amended the Personnel Policy Handbook to state that all employees, whatever their department, are now entitled to 48 paid personal-leave hours every year.)

In addition, Local 4600’s suit claimed that from 2011 to Jan. 1, 2019, the town failed to pay firefighters the time and a half to which they were entitled under the Fair Labor Standards Act. That claim, or at least part of that claim, the town conceded at the time, in a statement released to the Chesterton Tribune, in which Associate Town Attorney Chuck Parkinson acknowledged that a payroll error was discovered by the Clerk-Treasurer’s Office “on its own initiative,” that the mistake was “voluntarily corrected,” and that payments were subsequently made to firefighters in excess of the town’s legal obligation.

In any case, the Local 4600 suit sought compensatory damages, an equal amount of liquidated damages, and attorney’s fees.

This is what they’re getting, and what they’re stipulating to, under the settlement agreement approved by the Town Council on Monday:

-- The town will pay a total of $26,271.24 to 15 current and two former members of Local 4600, to settle in perpetuity any violations or alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The town’s payment of $26,271.24 is inclusive of any attorney’s fees and costs owed by Local 4600 or its individual members, and will be split among the 17 in varying amounts.

-- The town will rescind reprimands issued to two members of Local 4600.

-- The town will provide four additional vacation days in lieu of, as well as in elimination of, reduction days. Those four additional vacation days will be codified in the Personnel Policy Handbook.

-- An additional sum of $89,878.26 which the town actually overpaid firefighters--in yet another mistake made by the previous Clerk-Treasurer’s Office--and which the firefighters accordingly owe to the town, will be waived.

-- Local 4600 and its members will provide written confirmation to the town that “all payroll pratices within the Town of Chesterton have been corrected, past, present, and prospectively.”

Of note: “In entering into this settlement agreement and release of all claims, neither party to the aforementioned action admits that either their claims or defense’s lack merit and enter into this agreement for the purposes of terminating all controversies between the parties, recognizing that the entry into this agreement is in the best interest of all parties.”

Later in the evening Member Jennifer Fisher, I-5th, expressed her gratitude to Harris Welsh & Lukmann for its work in preparing and securing the settlement.

2021 Budget

In other business, members voted unanimously on first reading to approve the 2021 advertised budget.

At a public hearing which preceded the vote, no one spoke in favor of the 2021 budget and no one in opposition.

The council will consider the 2021 budget ordinance on final reading at its next meeting, Oct. 26.

The 2021 budget provides for an adopted total budget of $11,946,888; an adopted tax levy of $7,367,985; and an adopted tax rate of $1.0171 per $100 of assessed valuation. The total adopted budget includes a General Fund totaling $6,266,590; Motor Vehicle Highway totaling $1,593,500; CEDIT totaling $1,409,800; and Park and Recreation totaling $569,490.

It also provides for an adopted budget of “home-ruled funds"--those not reviewed by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance--of $4,022,294. The single largest line item in that secondary budget is tax increment financing funds totaling $2,534,994; followed by refuse and recycling totaling $1,065,000.

Members took a moment at the end of the meeting to thank Clerk-Treasurer Courtney Udvare for her budget presentation which she made at a special meeting earlier in the evening.

“It was an excellent presentation,” said Member Jim Ton, R-1st.

“I also thank (Clerk-Treasurer Udvare) for an excellent presentation,” Fisher agreed. “A lot of hard work went into it and we really appreciate it.”

“Very user-friendly,” added President Sharon Darnell, D-4th.



Posted 10/15/2020




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