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Bay Buzz: Union waiting on raises amid new budget woes

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster stressed in January that he needed to find a way to give raises to city workers, the majority of whom have not had a raise in four years.

The move could translate into goodwill at the polls for Foster, who faces a re-election bid later this year. During negotiations with a city union last week, Rick Smith, chief of staff for Florida Public Services, was upset that a newly revealed $3 million deficit this year made raises impossible. This deficit is on top of a $10 million shortfall that city leaders covered with a property tax hike last year.

The union supported Foster in raising property taxes last fall, Smith said, but the mayor now "has a lot of problems talking about vision." The union, he continued, could declare an impasse and take the issue to the City Council for a vote.

"If you have the political muscle to make something happy, good for you," said Chris Guella, the city's labor relations and compensation manager.

Tiger bites

One of the sharpest questions at Thursday's Tiger Bay meeting — where attendants supposedly "carve up" politicians over lunch, but usually leave them a bit ruffled — came from Largo Mayor Pat Gerard.

While introducing the two newly elected Pinellas County commissioners, Gerard wondered: "Now they've filled their campaign promise to restore fluoride to the water, do they have anything else to say?"

It's a really good question. Throughout last summer and into the fall, Democrats Charlie Justice and Janet Long campaigned on fluoride, castigating their Republican opponents for voting to stop adding it to the water. During those months, they mentioned the need for job growth and a fix for the county's expensive emergency medical services system, but restoring fluoride was the one thing they said they'd do.

Or as Justice joked on Thursday: "Politicians are trained not to make a lot of promises on the trail. Fluoride was a promise I made, the only promise I made, so we're done."

After they had recovered from Gerard's grilling speech, in which she compared Justice to "dripping water," and Long to "a jackhammer, noisy, and hard to ignore," the commissioners said very little to suggest which issues they might champion in the coming years.

Asked whether they would support paying for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, or a revamped Clearwater aquarium, both said they would wait and see. Asked about consolidation, both acknowledged that Pinellas has 24 cities and that's a problem, but those municipal boundaries aren't going to dissolve anytime soon.

On EMS, they do differ. Long defended her decision to vote in favor of directing low-priority calls to Sunstar, a private ambulance company. Justice said he'd voted against it because he was waiting for the results of a study.

And to one question, they both said no and moved on as quickly as possible.

Political consultant and blogger Peter Schorsch: "Both of you were elected in Democratic wave years in 2006 and 2012 and you lost in a Republican wave year in 2010. Don't you both owe your political careers to the fickle ebb and flow of the voters?"

Janet: "No." (sits down)

Charlie: "Well, I think uh, no."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @markpuente on Twitter. Anna M. Phillips can be reached at aphillips@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779.

Bay Buzz: Union waiting on raises amid new budget woes 03/16/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 8:15am]
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