TAMPA — Despite a $27 million shortfall, Mayor Pam Iorio's preliminary 2011 budget includes $4 million for raises for workers covered by the city's three unions.
"I really don't want to say too much about it right now because we have not started contract negotiations for next year," Iorio said this week.
Last year, facing a shrinking budget due largely to a drop in property tax revenue, Iorio started contract negotiations by saying she would offer no raises. And she didn't include money for that in the 2010 budget.
The unions representing police, firefighters and general employees agreed to forgo annual cost-of-living increases.
The general employees union at first resisted giving up merit raises, but gave in during contract negotiations.
The firefighter and police unions, though, fought until the end to keep so-called step raises, which are awarded as they gain experience during their early years on the job.
The police officers took the contract dispute to the City Council, but failed to win support. That prompted the firefighters to reach an agreement with Iorio.
Throughout negotiations, the police and fire unions said they were worried eliminating the step increases for one year showed an intent to eliminate them forever.
Iorio, though, said that wasn't true and pledged to revisit the issue.
"Everyone pulled together and everyone did without raises last year," Iorio said. That saved jobs, she said. "It was a very difficult time," she said. "The same holds true this year. I think you'll be able to make that case for many, many years in the future."
Still, last year's contract negotiations made it clear how important the step and merit increases are, particularly to the police and fire unions, which use them as a recruiting tool.
"We cannot just continue to put together budgets that do not include step increases," she said.
Jace Kohan, secretary-treasurer of the firefighters union, said he was glad to know the budget included money for the step increases.
"Of course, we're all for it. We'll just see when we start negotiating, where they stand," he said. "That was our only sticking point last year."
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.