Sunday, May 27, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster proposes raises for all workers

ST. PETERSBURG — After four years without pay raises, city workers would see a "modest wage increase" in the next fiscal year under Mayor Bill Foster's newest budget.

Although Foster didn't provide details in a memo he sent to the City Council on Monday, union and other city officials say a 2 percent hike is on the table.

Now in his fourth year in office, Foster's earlier budget proposals dealt mostly with cuts and limited fee increases and fines.

"I am happy to report that our economy has rebounded from the Great Recession," Foster wrote. He added: "Although our city economy is improving, we must still be cautious in the expenditure of our resources."

Unlike in recent years, he proposes no cuts to parks, pools, libraries and recreation centers. He also wants to keep social services and art programs funded at current levels.

The pay increase would apply to all workers in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

In January, Foster declared that he could not go another year without giving raises. He has blamed stagnant wages for some recent departures of professional employees.

Rick Smith, chief of staff for the Florida Public Services Union, which represents 1,200 city workers, said the union is also bargaining to have another raise, known as a step increase, reinstated, adding: "We might be able to work something out."

With property values expected to rise 4.2 percent — the first increase since 2008 — another $3.1 million will flow into city coffers, Foster said.

Residents could also see a tiny drop in property taxes.

Foster proposes reducing the millage of $6.7742 per $1,000 of a property's taxable value to $6.7700. For example, a resident owning a house valued for tax purposes at $150,000 and claiming $50,000 in homestead exemptions would save 42 cents under the new rate. He calls the cut a "down payment toward my commitment to reducing taxes in the future."

The millage rate must be set by July 25. Public hearings on the $211-million general fund proposal are set for Sept. 12 and Sept. 26. The City Council must approve a balanced budget by Oct. 1.

As a result of the recession, the city has trimmed 300 jobs. Foster cut 22.5 jobs in his budget last year.

He proposes cutting eight full-time positions this year and shuffling others between part time and full time. The cuts will result in a net reduction of one full-time job and about 10 part-time jobs.

Foster added: "My recommended budget watches the pennies while maintaining service levels, investment in public safety and quality of life issues."

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @ markpuente.

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