LEWISTON — City officials and firefighters are inching closer to a labor contract, officials said Thursday. 

The negotiations have been ongoing for nearly three years. In early January, the city hired Evan Weston, a professional mediator registered with the Maine Labor Relations Board, to conduct a new round of talks. 

City Administrator Ed Barrett said Thursday that progress has been made and that he’s “optimistic” an agreement could be signed soon. 

The biggest hurdle now is putting the tentative agreement on paper in language that’s suitable for both sides, he said. Then, both the union — the Lewiston Firefighters IAFF Local 785 — and the City Council must vote to approve the document. 

“At this point I’d say I’m optimistic, but there’s still a lot of the detail work that has to be done,” Barrett said. 

He said the agreement is complicated and covers a large number of issues, so it may take more time before both sides sign off. It’s also been a long negotiation process with lots of proposals going back and forth, he said. 

Phil Nadeau, deputy city administrator, who has been leading the city negotiations, said typically the union will vote first on any agreement. 

Both sides had said previously that the contract hang-ups include staffing, pay and benefits.

“I’m hoping we can both get to the finish line and that nothing will jump up that remains unresolved,” Barrett said. 

On Tuesday, the City Council voted unanimously to approve next year’s municipal budget, and added $272,000 to the general fund’s contingency account for “anticipated collective bargaining contracts.” 

The City Council met in executive session Tuesday to discuss the negotiations. Nadeau said the next meeting had yet to be scheduled. 

City Councilor Jim Lysen, one of three councilors to take part in the informal mediations, said Thursday that the mediations have gone well. He said while there is still language to work out, he believes an agreement, “in principle,” has been reached. 

He added that he’s “pleased” the makings of an agreement have been arrived at in time to pass next year’s budget. 

Councilors Shane Bouchard and Tim Lajoie also took part in the mediations. The city has been paying the cost of Weston’s mediation, at $250 an hour. Nadeau said Weston will remain in the discussions until the final documents are signed. 

Fire union President Rick Cailler, a department captain, could not be reached Thursday for comment. 

Throughout the negotiation process, the union has been outspoken and critical of the process on social media. A recent post referring to an April 25 fire on Vale Street said a firefighter was briefly trapped during the department’s response. 

“Lewiston firefighters are understaffed and the City prefers to not recognize or commit funds to change this reality,” the post said. 

It was shared on Facebook more than 450 times. 

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