Another financial practice of the Warwick Fire Department has raised more questions than answers at this time, as documents outlining negotiations for the 2012-15 collective bargaining agreement seem to conflict with the fiscal reality of what has been funded within the fire department’s budget since then.
The line item in question – which is itemized under code 35-335 as “medical examinations” – is used to cover mandated medical tests that veteran firefighters are supposed to undergo each year. In prior contracts, most recently in the 2009-2012 deal, the contract has specifically stated that:
“Every employee forty-five  years or older may request a complete yearly physical by a doctor of his or her choice, which examination shall include an electrocardiogram, chest x-ray, complete blood count and urinalysis. Also, said employee may request a treadmill stress test...The cost of such examination and tests shall be paid by the City. The medical report to the City of said physical paid for by the City shall be limited to a report on whether the employee is fit and able to perform the duties of said employee’s position.”
However, in documents acquired and analyzed by the Beacon, the tentative agreement for the 2012-15 contract specifically removes a sentence of that provision, stating that the new deal would, “Eliminate provision for City to pay for annual medical exam and/or tests that are covered by any health insurance provider.” The change would, on the surface, appear to take the city off the hook paying for medical tests that otherwise are covered by firefighters’ Blue Cross insurance plan.
Along with the clear change mentioned in the tentative agreement, then-city Finance Director Ernest Zmyslinski produced a fiscal note delivered to then-Mayor Scott Avedisian and the City Council dated July 5, 2012 that specifically includes $58,000 in savings each of the three years of the contract due to not having to pay for the “Medical Exam Provision,” as outlined in the note.
Regardless of both of these facts, the medical evaluations line item was still given $80,000 in FY13 and was given $10,638 in FY14. It was then given $52,138 in FY15 and has received a base budget of $60,000 in fiscal years 2016-19 since.
More puzzling, however, is the varied fluctuations in how much money was actually spent out of these accounts throughout the years. For example, in FY11 – before eliminating the contractual provision that left the city on the hook for paying the medical exams – the line item was funded with $80,000. By the time the next budget rolled around, the department had used just $58 of that budget.
It has been a similar story lately as well. In FY18 – although the finalized figures are not out yet – as of May 2018 the fire department had only utilized $10 of their budgeted $60,000 for medical evaluations. However, this didn’t affect the city council’s decision to once again fund the same budget line item in the FY19 budget, again for $60,000.
In total, between FY10 and FY17, the fire department has under-spent this line item by a total of $188,015. Only twice in that span did they expend beyond the budget – in FY15 when they overspent by $7 and in FY16 when they needed an additional allotment of $2,569 to keep from overspending the original $60,000 budget.
It is not clear what has happened to funds left over from this line item because, after April 15 of each year, city departments can transfer funds from within their own budget without first seeking the approval of the city council. Fire department critics say that this provides an opportunity for the department to shuffle funds into their overtime budget.
A call to the administrative office for the Warwick Fire Department was not answered, nor was multiple calls to former fire union president Bill Lloyd, who was the union president at the time of the 2012-15 negotiations.
Current union president Michael Carreiro said that the contractual change was the result of an attempt at a compromise between the department and the city, but was ultimately found to be unfeasible.
“The intention was that some of the costs were high so we were trying to make some compromises with the city and the insurance carrier was going to pay for it,” he said. “Come to find out the insurance didn't pay for it because it was a requirement to have the physicals done. I think it was a misunderstanding between the insurance company and the city.”
When asked what tests might not be covered under their regular health insurance plan that would necessitate a budget line item in order to pay for them, Correiro did not provide a clear answer, as different firefighters have to take different tests, such as if they are on the hazmat unit. He said that the firefighters are supposed to go in for a normal round of testing every year but for reasons unbeknownst to him, that hasn’t been happening as it is supposed to be.
“I don't know the exact reason why we haven't had one this year,” he said. “That would be an administrative decision.”
The issue will likely be a topic of discussion at the Jan. 9 meeting of the City Council, as a docketed item is a request from the Warwick Fire Department to fund the medical evaluations line item with $125,000, which would be by far the largest allocation in the span of time researched by the Beacon for this article.
City Council President Steve Merolla said on Monday he knows which way he’ll be voting in regards to that request.
“We'll see what the rest of the council's position is, but in my opinion it's redundant. They have health insurance,” he said. “I've been saying this for years. To me, [the budgeted amount] was not used because it wasn't necessary.”