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Council overrides fire budget veto

The Tampa City Council overrode a mayoral veto of more money for the city fire department Thursday, but the gesture quickly proved to be hollow. Mayor Sandy Freedman immediately vowed she would not spend an estimated $1.7-million to hire 37 new firefighters and buy new equipment, a right she is granted under the city charter.

"She will not spend the money," Freedman's spokesman John Dunn said. "She is more concerned about the interests of the taxpayers than trying to curry political favor with the firefighters union."

Freedman has maintained that hiring extra firefighters is a luxury and ultimately will mean an increase in property taxes for city residents. The council and the firefighters union have countered that the extra equipment and personnel are needed to combat understaffing and poor response time.

The council voted 5-1 to override Freedman's veto, with Council Chairman Lee Duncan voting to uphold the mayoral veto. Council member Eddie Caballaro was absent.

"I think it will be very hard for her not to spend the money," firefighters union President Bob Weiss said. "The City Council did what they were supposed to do. If a death results from understaffing, it will fall heavily on her."

Under the city's charter, the council has the power to approve a budget, but only the mayor is allowed to actually spend the city's money, City Council Attorney David Carr said.

Freedman said the city is facing a rocky financial future. She has ordered city departments to cut a total of $5-million from the 1990-91 spending plan because of dwindling payments from the federal and state government and rising fuel costs.

Most of the $1.7-million appropriated for the fire department would be taken from the city's contingency fund, a reserve for emergencies.

Council members went to great lengths to make sure the mayor's veto would be defeated.

The $376-million budget and Freedman's veto were to be discussed at a morning meeting Thursday, but the decision was postponed because of the absence of council members Perry Harvey and Eddie Caballero, both of whom were slated to vote to override the veto. Five votes were needed to override.

The vote was rescheduled for early evening, and Harvey was summoned back to Tampa from a Miami business trip.

At 5:40 p.m. Harvey was in his seat and voted against Freedman's veto.