ST. PETERSBURG — The city faces as much as a $20 million shortfall next year.
As a result, 59 full-time and 33 part-time jobs already have been cut. The majority of those positions were vacant; 20 employees were let go.
Now city leaders are threatening to cut more.
Roughly 700 nonunion employees are taking 2.5 percent pay cuts. The city is asking union workers, who make up the bulk of the city's 2,800 workers, to accept a salary freeze for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
"A freeze would save us around $4.3 million — cash that we dearly need for a balanced budget," said Gary Cornwell, the city's human resources director.
The city's current agreement with unionized employees gives them a yearly increase of around 3 percent, with an optional increase depending on seniority.
City Hall says it will cut at least 50 to 55 more jobs if unions don't agree.
The threat does not impress union leaders.
"We don't have any people to cut, especially in the current difficult and challenging times we are facing right now," said Karl Lounge, vice president of the Pinellas County Fraternal Order Of Police. "The city should rather take a real good look at its spending habits and question itself whether we need another dog park or new sidewalks."
All of the four major unions have agreed to talks this week, but an impasse seems unavoidable.
"Neither do we believe there is a financial urgency for the city nor do we understand why we should re-enter talks on a contract that was largely City Hall's proposal," said Winthrop Newton, president of the local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
First Deputy Mayor Tish Elston disputed the notion that the city has other options. "We will have to cut those jobs. No doubt about it."
Union leaders suggested city managers take deeper cuts.
"They city tells us that its senior management took a slash of 2.5 percent, but what they don't tell you is that they got increases ranging from 12 to 55 percent over the last years," said Michael Krohn, executive director of the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association.
They also want more information.
"We have asked the city for documents about the their financial situation. They have failed to provide all of them," said Van E. Church, executive vice president of the Florida Public Services Union.