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COUNTY FIREFIGHTERS MAY RECEIVE A 2.5 PERCENT PAY RAISE

A state official says the raise has been illegally withheld since last October.

Pasco County firefighters could get nearly $500,000 in retroactive raises under a recommendation by a state labor official that accuses the county of breaking the law.

A hearing officer for the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission has recommended that Pasco County give firefighters a 2.5 percent pay raise, dating back to last October, that was illegally withheld from them during union negotiations, said Lee Cohee, assistant general counsel for PERC.

"We're pretty happy with it," said Ralph Grant, the union president, of the July 18 recommendation.

The raises were given to other county employees but not to firefighters because they were asking for even larger raises in contract negotiations, said county personnel director Barbara DeSimone. Two years after forming their union, the Pasco County Professional Firefighters still don't have a contract.

Now the recommendation will go before the three-member PERC board for a final ruling. It could be several months before the firefighters get the money - and even that depends on the board's wishes and a possible county appeal.

The firefighters would probably get a lump sum from a few hundred to more than a thousand dollars, depending on their base pay, Grant said. According to DeSimone, the county would have no trouble paying; it has the funds in reserve.

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