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Police union officials rip Tampa mayor's spending priorities

TAMPA — Conceding to the police union's demands would cost the city more than $12.6 million and force nearly 200 layoffs, Mayor Pam Iorio said Wednesday.

Iorio called a special City Council meeting to reinforce her opposition to the union's requests for raises and more time off.

But union representatives said Iorio is overstating the financial impact of the proposed contract by inflating dollar figures and applying police union contract requests to the city's firefighter and general employees unions.

"These numbers are completely incorrect," Diane Morton, an attorney representing the police and firefighter unions, said later.

Iorio said the so-called step increases that are awarded as officers rise through the ranks would cost $1.7 million a year. The police union said the cost is $772,000 a year.

The city's figure includes the cost of benefits, such as increased pension payments, and a full year of step payments, which are awarded throughout the year based on an officer's hire date, finance director Bonnie Wise said.

The city's $12.6 million figure also includes a dollar value for additional time off.

Morton also said it's unfair to insist that the two other unions get exactly what is given to police officers.

"Each union is unique," Morton said.

The city is at an impasse in its negotiations with all three unions. That means the contracts go to a special magistrate, who will issue a nonbinding recommendation. If the two sides still can't agree, the contracts go to the City Council.

The police contract is furthest along, with the magistrate's recommendation expected by Nov. 9.

Iorio told the council that in the interest of fairness, that contract should set the tone for the two others.

"The police go first," Iorio said, and "as the police goes, so goes the other two."

Union representatives argue that the city can afford to pay the raises and could tap an $82 million reserve fund. Morton points to a transcript of the police hearing before the special magistrate that shows the city's attorney said: "Nobody suggests that in a budget of this size you can't find the money. So it's never been about ability to pay."

"They choose not to," Jimmy Meier, senior vice president of West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association, said after hearing Iorio.

William Mann, vice president of the firefighters union, said Iorio has made choices about how to spend city money that indicate she doesn't really care about employees. Specifically, he notes $12,000 budgeted to pay a poet laureate and money earmarked for lighting street signs.

"Where are your priorities?" he said.

Mann predicted that there will be an overflow crowd when the council considers the police union contract next month.

"They've told us everything rides on that contract," he said. "We're going to have to support the PBA."

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

Police union officials rip Tampa mayor's spending priorities 10/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 10:56pm]
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