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Cuts, layoffs in St. Petersburg not sitting well with some

ST. PETERSBURG — Citywide layoffs and pay cuts have incited union officials and community activists who claim Mayor Rick Baker's budgetary priorities are out of tune with the city's needs.

"We have cops getting shot, we have little girls getting murdered, and don't you think law enforcement should be your top priority?" said Michael Krohn, executive director of the Pinellas County police union. "Rather than the city helping, they just want to cut."

The loss of the Police Department's domestic violence coordinator especially riled up social services leaders.

"It sends the message: domestic violence, it's no big deal," said Linda A. Osmundson, executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse, a resource center for victims.

Baker announced a major overhaul of the city budget Tuesday, calling for layoffs, pay cuts and reduced employee perks totaling more than $8.8 million in savings. The changes aim to give the city a financial cushion in the face of sinking property values and sales tax revenue. General fund dollars are expected to drop by $15 million to $20 million next year.

The city's work force faces the brunt of the budget cuts.

Baker announced a 2.5 percent pay reduction for nearly 500 nonunion employees who earn more than $50,000. And 59 full-time and 33 part-time positions were eliminated. Most of those posts were vacant, but about 20 full-time employees are out of work.

Baker's plan also includes a proposed wage freeze for 2010.

The City Council, which oversees the salaries of elected officials, chimed in on the belt tightening Thursday, passing a 2.5 percent pay decrease for council members and Baker. "Every little reduction you can do in salary saves someone's job somewhere," said council member Jim Kennedy.

Still, union officials said they will likely fight any proposed pay changes because employees are already underpaid.

"If we agree to a pay freeze now, where is the agreement that they are going to make it up to us later?" said Krohn.

Van E. Church, executive vice president of SEIU Florida Public Services Union, said he wants the city to open its books and prove the layoffs are necessary.

Meanwhile, activists across the county said they will ask police Chief Chuck Harmon to keep his domestic violence coordinator.

Carol Bailey earns $45,055. She trains police officers about domestic violence, coordinates with social service groups and helps prosecutors gather evidence and comfort victims.

Activists fear victims will return to their abusers without the proper counseling.

St. Petersburg had 1,849 reports of domestic battery in 2008. As of Wednesday, there have been 572 reports this year.

Cuts, layoffs in St. Petersburg not sitting well with some 04/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 9:36am]
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