ONEONTA _ A deadlock between City Hall and the union that represents nearly all of the city's full-time firefighters will now be tackled by a state-appointed mediator.

The city's four-year contract with Oneonta Professional Firefighters expired Dec. 31.

Despite five meetings between the union and city officials from November to January, a new contract could not be reached, Mayor John Nader said Wednesday.

Nader announced at Tuesday night's Common Council that City Hall and the union were at an impasse.

"I think mediation is a constructive step," Nader said.

Kevin Flanagan, a Public Employment Relations Board mediator who has worked with the city in the past, was assigned by PERB last week to help broker a new contract.

The 24 firefighters in Local 2408 are working under the terms of the expired contract.

Jim Delello, union president and a 20-year city firefighter, said the local is unhappy with

the distribution of wage increases under the city's proposal.

"They are actually higher on the entry-level, but they were going to flatten us out in the middle," Delello said.

The union is seeking annual salaries in the first year of a four-year contract of $29,500 for first-year firefighters; $40,000 for fifth-year firefighters; $43,000 for 10th-year firefighters; and $48,075 for 20th-year firefighters, according to firefighter and union negotiating team member Mike Mancini.

The salaries would go up by 3 percent in each of the remaining three years of the contract.

The exact wages offered by the city were not disclosed by city officials.

But the current, annual wage scale is $24,963 for first-year firefighters; $38,852 for fifth-year firefighters; $39,355 for 10th-year firefighters; and $40,338 for 20th-year firefighters, according to city Chamberlain David Martindale.

With two-thirds of the city's firefighters falling between four and 16 years of service, which is the area of the least wage increase under the city's proposal, most of the firefighters will not see the same level of increase as newer or future firefighters, Mancini said.

"We want everybody to get their share," Delello said.

Mancini pointed out that the union's contract proposal in terms of wages is still less than the average for departments in the state with similar staffing levels.

The city's fire department also lags behind the Oneonta Police Department in terms of annual wages under a contract negotiated two years ago with the Police Benevolent Association, he said.

The firefighters' union is also unhappy with the level of health insurance contributions the city wants in a new contract.

"I'm not going to comment on the specifics of the proposals," Nader said. "Jim Delello and I are going to meet privately Thursday."

Although he would not discuss details, Nader said he is cautiously optimistic common ground could be reached.

"The health insurance contribution is a very negotiable issue," Nader said.

Oneonta Fire Chief Robert Barnes and Assistant Chief Shane Mattice are not covered under the union contractor.

But Barnes said Wednesday he would like to see a new contract in place soon.

"Working without a contract affects the whole atmosphere in the fire house _ I would never say it affects the quality of the work," Barnes said. "Moving toward a settlement would be to everyone's benefit."

Barnes said he did not know enough of about the details of the negotiations to comment on them.

"The fire department has gotten less financial support in past contracts than maybe some other departments," Barnes said. "We need to be cognizant of that. But on the management side of things, there is only a finite number of dollars to do this."

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