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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Kathleen Ford and Mayor Rick Baker butt heads again

ST. PETERSBURG-- Mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford urged city officials to tap into budget reserves and honor its union contracts to city employees during a budget forum tonight.

Mayor Rick Baker has proposed a wage freeze for all city workers that will save $4 million in the 2010 budget.

Ford, a former City Council member, said Baker has set aside millions of dollars in various reserve funds. He therefore cannot defend his stance that the city can ignore the contracts because St. Petersburg is in a state of financial urgency, she said. She identified $58 million in reserve funds that could be used to fund city programs and services.

Some union workers in the crowded City Council chambers cheered her.

Baker, however, said it would be irresponsible to raid the city's reserves. That money should be saved for a true disaster, he said. He also predicted that declining property values would make balancing the 2011 budget difficult.

"I am concerned for our city," he said. "My concern for the city makes me want to keep the reserves."

Baker later refuted Ford's claims, although he didn't identify her by name. He said he heard "someone" make a comment about reaching into utility funds.

"Those are separate enterprise funds," he said. "You can't do that."

He did not address Ford's request to use other funds.

Baker trumped Ford in the 2001 mayoral elections.

A majority of City Council members said the city should honor its union contracts, even if it means dipping into the reserves.

"If we can't keep that committment, we have no business making it in the first place," Council member Bill Dudley told a crowd full of city employees. "We have and we need to keep that committment to you."

Cristina Silva, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:58am]


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