TAMPA — More than two dozen city employees avoided layoffs Thursday as the City Council rejected a cost-cutting plan to outsource janitorial work to a private company.
The 6-1 vote came after several janitorial workers pleaded with council members to spare their jobs, saying that the cuts would leave many veteran city employees without health insurance, and with little way to start a new career. But the council warned that with the slumping economy, it may have only been delaying the inevitable.
The two-year agreement with United Services Group, based in Clearwater, would have saved the city $392,440 a year, but at the cost of 27 city jobs, a price the council was not willing to pay.
"These aren't just jobs, these aren't just positions, these are people, these are our co-workers," said council member John Dingfelder. "It's good to have efficiency task forces and all these fancy names, but they lose sight of what we're really talking about, and that's the people who were here this morning."
Mayor Pam Iorio had argued that the privatization move, part of a larger cost-savings effort, was necessary to save money in a time of reduced property tax revenue.
An earlier plan, which the city this month decided to scale back, would have contracted out security work, too, with dozens of more layoffs as a result.
But employees such as Robert C. Tracy, 54, who helps maintain Macfarlane Park, begged the council to consider the ramifications of its cost-cutting move.
"I cannot walk out there and turn around and start all over," Tracy said. "I'm asking that you look this thing over very carefully before you put us all on the street."
Council members were particularly concerned about the issue of health insurance for workers like Ronald L. Starr, 55, who pleaded with the council to save his job in the parking division and his medical coverage, which he relies on to treat his diabetes.
The proposed contract with United Services Group did not include medical coverage, leading council members to deduce that under the contract, their employees could have netted as little as $7.50 per hour after paying for health insurance themselves, perhaps as little as half what janitorial workers had earned working for the city.
"You're looking at a lot of employees, not just me, who are in the same boat," Starr said. "There's other ways you can do things around here other than taking people's jobs away."
But despite their relative sympathy for Starr and his colleagues, council members warned that difficult decisions lie ahead.
"At some point, there are going to be layoffs," council Chairman Thomas Scott said.
Scott and other council members said when the time comes, the city should consider cutting spending across the board, rather than specifically targeting some of the city's lowest-paid workers, as they saw it, in the proposed janitorial layoffs.
They also took aim at government waste, pointing to a newspaper report this week that said the city spends more than $30,000 annually on bottled water — more than enough to cover the salary of one of the workers whose job was on the line Thursday.
"If we can't find $400,000 out of a half-billion-dollar budget, then we don't deserve to be here," Dingfelder said.
Tom Kaplan can be reached at (813) 226-3404 or email@example.com.