Fact-Finding in State and Local Government: Using a Municipal Finance Expert in Collective Bargaining; Learn How the State of Idaho Uses Innovative Financial Analysis Techniques to Help Highlight the True Economic Condition of Local Government to Resolve Disputes with Municipal Firefighters

Article excerpt

State and local governments face an ongoing problem of defending their allocation of taxpayer money for public expenditures. Some taxpayers argue that most public expenditures are unproductive. However, these views are often the result of their political views on the limited functions of governments. There are many valid issues that municipal governments must address when spending taxpayer dollars. Usually, the element of competition so prevalent in the private sector is missing. Second, there is no bottom line to review to see if resources have been employed in a way that has created value for the municipal entity. There is a common opinion that municipal employees are not under the same employer pressures to produce. And finally, municipal expenditure decisions do not reflect the same decision processes as those made in the private sector.

All of these issues put pressure on state and local administrators to hold the line on pay increases for their employees, even though many of the services offered to their communities have little or no available substitutes. For this reason, wage negotiation matters may not be settled through the option of negotiation or good faith collective bargaining.

In the State of Idaho, only municipal firefighters and teachers have statutory bargaining rights, and the fact-finding process is the only statutorily-mandated collective bargaining dispute resolution process. In this case the fact-finding process is more like a trial than mediation. Usually, the municipality has the city treasurer or other city official present his or her view of the city finances. This article explores how the municipal finance expert can assist in the favorable resolution of such wage negotiation disputes by helping the fact finders to decipher and understand the municipal entity's audited financial statements.

Title 44, Chapter 18, Idaho Code--The Idaho Firefighters Collective Bargaining Act

In the State of Idaho, professional firefighters employed by cities and fire districts "have the right to bargaining collectively ... as to wages, rates of pay, working conditions and all other terms and conditions of employment." Idaho Code Section 44-1802. Concomitantly, Idaho Code Section 44-1804 requires cities and fire districts (hereinafter "cities") to engage in good faith collective bargaining with their firefighters' authorized collective bargaining representative (union). If the bargaining process stalls and the parties are unable to negotiate a mutually acceptable collective bargaining agreement, the city and the union may, by mutual agreement, seek to mediate the bargaining dispute through use of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service or some other mediator. If the parties cannot agree to mediate, or if voluntary mediation fails to resolve the bargaining impasse, Idaho Code Section 44-1805 requires that all unresolved bargaining issues be submitted to a fact-finding commission.

The fact-finding commission consists of three members: a member selected by the firefighters; a member selected by the city; and, a third member appointed by the director of the Idaho Department of Labor if the other two members are unable to agree upon the appointment of a third member. Pursuant to Idaho Code Section 44-1809 and 1810, upon convening, the fact-finding commission schedules and conducts a full evidentiary hearing, during which each party calls witnesses and presents documentary evidence in support of its position on each of the disputed issues. Following the hearing, and the submission of any requested post-hearing written submissions by the parties, the commission, by a majority vote, issues its written recommendations for resolving the dispute.

The City's Ability to Pay

When the unresolved issues involve wages or economic benefits, the fact finders must ascertain if the wage and/or benefit increase is reasonable and, if so, whether the city has the ability to pay. …