There's nothing wrong with the 5.5-percent pay hikes granted to Gloucester's firefighters over a three-year period, and under a new memorandum of agreement to settle a two-year-old expired contract.
The raises, after all, match those granted to other city employees, and mark the first pay increases for the city's firefighters in five years.
But while the pay raises are justified — and while it's good that the firefighters' union and Mayor Carolyn Kirk's administration finally settled on an agreement to at least stabilize the department's projected costs for the coming fiscal year — it is profoundly disappointing that there appear to have been no forward steps taken to address the department's and the city's single most important issue.
That's the fact that, more often than not, two of three outlying fire stations remain closed, leaving an undue safety risk for too many residents, especially those in the northern villages of Bay View, Annisquam and Lanesville.
There is a context to Kirk's statement that any department structuring to address the closures and the contract's time off and manning requirements that lead to them should be left to a new chief.
But, will the new chief look toward hiring a few more full-time firefighters? Will he look to a more creative and less-costly approach — perhaps adding part-time personnel, or trained volunteers like those who serve Cape Ann's towns? Indeed, one format could involve a permanent deputy heading up each of the three outlying station, with volunteers or perhaps a reserve squad similar to the city's police reserves serving as crews.
But any such talk is sure to meet with fierce resistance from union leadership — and give any new chief an unfair uphill battle from the start.
It would have been nice if, along with deserved, three-year pay hikes, the new memorandum at least documented the need for structural changes under a new chief. It does not.
In fact, beyond the pay hikes, there is only an extension of the status quo. And that's another bad deal for Gloucester taxpayers.