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Personnel costs rising fast for Tampa

TAMPA — With the city facing a possible shortfall next year, officials need to get personnel costs under control, Mayor Pam Iorio told the City Council in a special budget meeting Tuesday.

Property and utility tax revenue continues to decline, and the amount the city must contribute to pension funds is likely to increase from $14-million this year to $21-million next year.

The city is required to maintain the pension fund's value at a set level, and the stock market collapse has eroded its worth, making higher contributions necessary, city finance director Bonnie Wise told the council.

All these strains on city finances mean Tampa could be in a $35-million in the hole in the fund used to pay salaries and benefits for the 2010 budget.

That deficit can only be partially offset by dipping into the city's reserves without seriously depleting them.

This year the city tapped reserves for $2.5-million to make up the shortfall. Next year, officials expect to need $10-million.

Meanwhile, paychecks and benefits make up the largest percentage of the city's general fund.

"It's really salaries and wages that has to be addressed," Wise said.

The assessment came while Iorio is in the midst of contract negotiations with both the firefighters union and the general employees union. If Iorio fails to reach agreement with the unions, the contracts could end up going to the council for approval.

Iorio and the general employees have agreed on a salary package that includes a 3.5 percent cost-of-living raise and merit raises of up to 3 percent.

But they're set to go to a mediator to hammer out the length of the contract.

The union wants a three-year contract; Iorio has agreed to just one year.

"Three-year contracts just don't make sense in this economic environment," Iorio told the council.

Tough negotiating also is under way with firefighters.

Just four months ago, the council voted unanimously to give firefighters 4 percent cost-of-living raises and merit increases averaging 5 percent a year. The council also instituted biweekly bonuses of $30 for emergency medical technicians and $110 for paramedics.

The council approval came after Iorio and the firefighters reached an impasse in contract discussions that lasted nine months. The firefighters' contract expired in October 2007.

This time around, firefighters are asking for a 5 percent cost-of-living raise, merit raises averaging 3.5 percent and the same bonuses.

Although the two sides agree on the merit raises, Iorio is offering only a 3 percent cost-of-living bump. She also wants to reduce the bonuses.

"Our rate of pay raises is too high and doesn't mesh with the times we're in," Iorio told the council.

In an interview after the meeting, Larry Parker, president of the firefighters union, said its request is reasonable.

"They want to reduce benefits for the high-risk firefighters," he said. "Firefighters and police officers are not the general public. We are not sitting behind desks. We are out protecting the life and property of the citizens every day."

Sean Snaith, an economics professor at the University of Central Florida, said the city's offer to both unions appeared generous given the current economic environment.

"You'd be really hard pressed to find anywhere in the state somebody getting a deal like that unless you happen to be a professional athlete," he said.

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

Personnel costs rising fast for Tampa 12/09/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 14, 2008 1:18pm]

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