The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve a new contract with city firefighters that officials hope will help rein in overtime costs.

The contract, enacted as an emergency measure so it could take effect immediately, comes after more than two years of negotiations that forced both sides to meet with a mediator over the summer.

“We would like to have the contract implemented immediately so we can begin to take into account some of the savings we would see on overtime and other areas,” City Manager Jon Jennings said. “This is a significant achievement for the city and also the local.”

International Association of Fire Fighters Local 740, which represents more than 220 firefighters and emergency medical technicians, was the only remaining city union working without a contract. Its last agreement expired in December 2013.

The new agreement will allow the city to move forward with cost-saving changes to the city’s health program, Jennings said.

The four-year contract contains retroactive cost of living increases, from 1 percent to 1.5 percent. The COLA increase for next year, the final year of the contract, has yet to be determined.

The biggest concession came from firefighters, who agreed to help rein in overtime costs by working an additional 12 hours a week at straight pay. That concession is expected to save the city $350,000 a year.

Overtime costs, especially in the city’s fire department, have been an ongoing budget concern for years.

According to city payroll information, overtime pay to firefighters has increased nearly 31 percent in the past two years, from $1.3 million in 2013 to $1.7 million in 2015.

Officials say that growth is primarily because of a hiring freeze that kept vacant positions unfilled and required employees to take on more hours. The fire department overtime contributed to a 15 percent increase in overall municipal overtime during the same period, from $4.7 million to $5.4 million.

Thirty-four municipal employees took home more than $20,000 each last year in overtime. Twenty-one of them were firefighters. Others included nurses at the Barron Center and police officers.

Jennings said Chris Thomson, who was recently elected the new union president, played an integral role in getting the contract approved.

About a month after the union turned down a compromise contract, 92 percent of members ratified the new contract, he said.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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