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Council takes up new union contracts

(ran North, South editions)

City Council members met in a closed session Tuesday to discuss negotiations for new union contracts. The city's police and fire departments both have labor agreements that expire Oct. 1.

Although conversation had begun in anticipation of the deadline, "at this time, I do have some proposals from both unions," said Jeff Sutton, the city's personnel director.

As part of his job, Sutton represents the fire department's 18 union workers and the police department's 30 union employees in talks with the council.

In more contentious years, he said, drawing up a new labor agreement has stretched 12 months or more. But department leaders said they expect a quick resolution this time.

"I'm not sure when it will be finished," fire Chief Dan Azzariti said of the negotiations. "But I do know we have a great relationship (with the city). The firefighters will not be asking for anything out of the ordinary."

In 2002, City Council members approved a labor agreement with firefighters and police that provided 4- to 6-percent raises over two years. The contract helped guarantee union workers a 5 percent pay raise in 2003, when the council approved only 3 percent raises for nonunion employees in an effort to trim the city budget.

This week's talks are not expected to yield a new contract, said some officials.

However, "I don't anticipate these (negotiations) to be long and drawn out," Sutton said.

In other council business Tuesday, elected leaders were scheduled to discuss the terms of hire for a new city manager. But the talks that would hammer out salary guidelines, benefits and other details of the contract were postponed.

City Council members have yet to pick a top candidate for the manager job _ a decision that officials initially anticipated making Sept. 18.

But after being delayed last week by Hurricane Ivan, remaining finalist J. Scott Miller of College Park, Ga., will be interviewed today.

The council could make a decision on a new manager following his interview. However, some members have said they do not want to rush to a decision and are considering broadening the field of candidates.

In the meantime, at least one elected leader had a suggestion for the job contract that will be offered to the council's top choice.

"I would like to see a residency requirement," council member Ginny Miller said Tuesday afternoon. She did not go into details on her preference regarding a specific pay range; however, New Port Richey's top job was advertised nationally with a $100,000 salary _ plus or minus.

Former City Manager Gerald Seeber earned $92,749, plus benefits in his last year on the job.

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