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Iorio says reject police union's push to keep step pay hikes

TAMPA — With the police union contract likely to go to the City Council for a vote next month, Mayor Pam Iorio is meeting with council members today to hammer home her argument that there should be no pay raises.

Iorio and the union have multiple points of disagreement, but the biggest one is over so-called step increases given to police officers as they rise through the ranks in their first 11 years on the job.

The police union agreed to forgo cost-of-living raises, but wants to keep the step increases.

At Iorio's request, though, the budget approved by City Council earlier this year includes no cost-of-living, merit or step increases for any of the city's employees, including nonunion workers and members of the police, firefighter and general employees' unions.

Negotiations between the city and the unions, whose contracts expired Sept. 30, are at an impasse. That means the council may have to make a final decision on the contracts after a special magistrate's nonbinding opinion on the issue.

The police union contract is the furthest along in the process. How it's resolved will set the tone for the remaining two contracts, Iorio said.

"I just want to go over with the council what the union is asking for and how that translates into dollars and what that will do to our payroll budget if it's approved," Iorio said.

Iorio says that in these tough economic times, the city simply can't afford any pay increases.

The police union disagrees.

Union representatives argue that only half of the city's approximately 900 officers would be eligible for the step raises, which would cost the city about $770,000.

Diane Morton, a police union attorney, noted that Iorio last year gave raises to executive staff and other nonunion employees even as she talked about the city's difficult financial situation.

"If we were a city in dire financial straits, we would not be giving significant pay raises to executives," Morton said. "We're just pointing out the incompatibility of their actions with the position."

She also points out that the city has healthy reserves that can easily pay for the step increases, which are considered a useful recruiting tool and reward for professional achievement.

The Government Finance Officers Association recommends that a city maintain reserves equal to 5 to 15 percent of its annual general fund spending.

Tampa's reserves at the end of 2008 were at 30 percent of general fund expenditures, with a balance of $116 million.

But Iorio said she doesn't want to dip any further into the account, having already taken out $31 million to fund the 2010 budget. That will take the balance down to $82 million, or about 20 percent of the city's general fund expenditures.

That money, Iorio said, needs to be saved in case the city faces a disaster such as a hurricane.

And she notes that even though executive staff and other nonunion employees did get raises last year, some of which reached 7 percent, union members also got raises last year.

"This year we've said from the beginning nobody gets a raise. Everybody was treated equally last year, everybody's being treated equally this year," Iorio said.

Council members have indicated they are not likely to approve raises for the unions. After passing the budget in September, they sent a letter to employees noting that it includes no pay raises and encouraging unions to work with Iorio to resolve their differences.

"The city doesn't have money for raises, and the people should be glad they have a job," council member John Dingfelder said. "A lot of people in the community don't."

Council member Charlie Miranda, who has voluntarily cut his own salary, agrees. And he doesn't want to use reserves to pay salaries.

"It's like asking somebody who lost a job and has got a couple dollars saved in a bank account not to get unemployment because they've got money in the bank," he said. "We were very lucky this year we didn't have any hurricanes or anything. That can go away in two days."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Iorio says reject police union's push to keep step pay hikes 10/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 11:38pm]

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