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Tampa firefighters not fans of mayor's budget proposal

TAMPA — Mayor Pam Iorio used her annual budget presentation to the City Council on Thursday to make her case in a salary dispute with the firefighters union.

Iorio is offering Tampa firefighters a 3 percent cost-of-living increase and 3.5 percent merit increases. The union wants a 5 percent pay increase and merit raises averaging 5 percent.

"That is just not affordable," Iorio said.

The City Council is scheduled to hear both sides of the conflict later this month.

How it resolves the issue will set the stage for negotiations with police and general employees' unions, Iorio said.

She made the remarks after presenting an $836-million budget, a $74.7-million increase over last year.

With property tax revenue down $2.4-million and sales tax revenue down $2.1-million, most of the growth in spending comes from an increase in construction loans.

Iorio also proposes spending $3.7-million from reserves.

She noted that to control spending, she has cut 382 positions from the city payroll.

"Every department has been affected," Iorio said.

Savings have also come from streamlining business processes.

The budget includes $7.5-million — a 15.5 percent increase over last year — for neighborhood improvement projects such as sidewalks and street resurfacing, and $144-million for water pipeline upgrades.

Iorio also wants to spend $2-million to buy the lobby of Tampa Theatre, which she said will save money in operating costs by erasing lease payments to the current owner. The historic theater is actually owned in pieces, with one party owning the lobby, another the auditorium and another the land.

Support of art and cultural organizations remains the same as last year at nearly $4-million. Those groups are already being squeezed by loss of contributions from the state and private donors, Iorio said, and need the city's full support.

She also highlighted plans to build a fire station in New Tampa and seek a federal grant to hire 36 firefighters.

But the biggest chunk of her budget presentation was devoted to the firefighter pay issue.

"It's not about the firefighters, because we think they're great," she said. "We believe our offer is a generous one particularly in light of the economics of the city this year and going forward."

In an interview later, Iorio said the contract she has proposed would give some firefighters a 6.5 percent raise. It would be difficult to find anyone in Tampa getting a similar pay raise this year, she said.

The existing contract expired in October. A special magistrate reviewed the dispute when Iorio and the firefighters union hit an impasse in negotiations.

The magistrate sided with Iorio, but the union rejected the recommendation. That puts the contract in the hands of the City Council.

A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 22 at 10 a.m.

Larry Parker, president of the firefighters union, said it was a "sneak attack" by Iorio to use the budget presentation to argue her side of the dispute.

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

Tampa firefighters not fans of mayor's budget proposal 08/07/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 1:55pm]
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