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Cuts hit hard at street job level in St. Petersburg

The city workers union head says administrators kept their own safe.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published June 29, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG -- Mayor Rick Baker's $14-million in budget cuts target street workers over senior administrators and outside subsidies over the city's internal government, an analysis of the mayor's proposal shows.

But the cuts at the top, as a percentage, are comparable to the number of management positions in the city as a whole.

Of the 70 jobs Baker marked for elimination in the coming year's budget, three are management positions, one each in the city's schools, marketing and finance departments.

The rest of the personnel cuts fall largely on support staff and professional workers, a combination of white- and blue-collar city employees. Eighteen part-time jobs also are being eliminated.

Baker said every department and position was considered when it came to layoffs. But the union representing the affected workers calls it a case of the city's highest paid administrators protecting their own.

One management job cut, the union says, could have saved three or four other jobs.

"It's easier to cut the street workers. It's easier to cut the lower end," said Charles Clark, the head of the local Service Employees International Union.

The cuts are the result of the Legislature's mandate that cities and counties roll back tax rates to give the public some property tax relief.

Of the 70 jobs eliminated, 48 are now filled, human resources director Gary Cornwell said.

The cuts to management represent 4.3 percent of the total 70 jobs. City officials say managers make up about 5 percent of the city's 2,985-employee staff.

But those percentages do not include other staff reductions in Baker's six years in office, internal services administrator Mike Connors said.

Not including the mayor's proposed cuts, Baker already has trimmed the city's total workforce by 57 employees since taking office, Connors said. Of those cuts, 10 employees were in management.

The names of the employees affected in the most recent layoffs have not been released by the city. Officials say they are attempting to rehire as many city workers as possible into other open positions in the city.

Workers have been meeting with human resources officials this week.

"It would be very wrong to say these layoffs are all people working out there paving streets," said Baker, who said he has never increased the number of managers in his government.

"I understand the union's position," he said. "That's what unions are supposed to do when you have layoffs."

Arts and social services cuts

Of the $14-million cut from the budget, about half directly affects the city government itself.

The first $4-million is money saved from stopping payments to the city's economic stability and insurance reserves. Baker said it was a conscious decision to budget the money last year knowing this budget cycle would be challenging. He says the money saved about 80 jobs.

Another $1-million comes from increased fees.

And the city will save $2.77-million by cutting all funding for outside agencies.

Deputy Mayor Tish Elston said administrators considered keeping a portion of the subsidies, but felt there was no fair way to decide what would stay and what would go.

City administrators would consider alternatives from the City Council, she said.

"Those areas about who gets what, that's pretty well in the council's bailiwick," Elston said. "We know the council will have some things they want to restore. We'll help them find ways to tailor the budget."

Council members already have suggested pumping back in some of the subsidies -- anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000.

Code enforcement cuts, elsewhere

While much of Baker's cuts shied from the meat of city government, two city departments will see major changes as part of the mayor's proposal.

Baker calls for a 25 percent reduction of the city's code enforcement program and the merger of the city's fair employment and housing investigations with Pinellas County's government.

Together, the cuts save the city $1.3-million.

Dave Metz, the deputy mayor for neighborhoods, said the change in the codes department likely will mean longer wait times for less serious complaints.

"We still want to try to address all of the complaints," Metz said. "It is still important to have a good, attractive and clean neighborhood."

And the investigation arm of the city's Department of Community Affairs is likely to merge with Pinellas County's.

The department processes equal employment opportunity commission and fair housing complaints for city residents and many county residents.

Elston, who oversees the department, said she hopes some of the city's six affected employees would be hired to similar positions with the county.

The office would maintain a presence in St. Petersburg, she said. Last year, the department closed 217 cases involving city residents.

Baker said other options are still being considered, ones that may save jobs or some funding for outside agencies or both.

"I've not just sent it out and closed the book," Baker said Thursday. "We're continuing to look at the budget. We'll do the best we can."

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

FAST FACTS: Tallying job cuts
 Job cuts
Total
city jobs*
Clearwater881,800
Tampa3695,000
St. Petersburg
883,000
* Totals are approximate. Tampa's cuts include 133 part-time and seasonal jobs, and St. Petersburg's cuts include 18 part-time jobs.

FAST FACTS: Inside the cuts
Mayor Rick Baker took exception Thursday with the idea that eliminating 70 jobs out of a 2,985-employee government was easy. Of the nearly 3,000 employees, a third work in city enterprise funds like water and garbage service and are not affected by property tax revenues. About another 800 were police and firefighters that Baker vowed not to raid. That leaves 70 jobs out of about 1, 200 -- or a 6 percent cut.

Your suggestions
Since Mayor Rick Baker offered his list of budget cuts a week ago, alternatives have been flying around the city. Here's why some may or may not work.

The comment: "Garbage pickup could be by (private) Waste Management. Raise bus fees to the point of self support or shut it down."
The facts: Though the city would likely save money if it outsourced its garbage service -- or reduced pickups to once a week -- the savings would not affect your property tax bill. The city's garbage service is paid for entirely by your monthly utility bill. And bus service is funded by the countywide Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, not the city.

The comment: "Cut government employee benefits first."
The facts: Council member Herb Polson suggested exploring a plan to change the amount employees contribute to the health care costs. Currently, 75 percent is paid by the city. It's unclear if Polson's suggestion will go anywhere. In the next year, the city is expected to spend an additional $1.8-million in health care costs.

The comment: "Get rid of all the deputy mayors and cut Baker's pay to what he is actually worth. Don't cut the funds to the libraries or rec centers. We need these departments more than we need deputy mayors."
The facts: Baker created the term deputy mayor when he took office in 2001. City officials say there are no more senior administrators today then there were during David Fischer's administration. Fischer's chief of staff position has been replaced by Baker's deputy mayor for Midtown and Economic Development. Fischer's public works administrator has been replaced by a schools and policy administrator, which until this year, had acted as the city's fourth deputy mayor.

[Last modified June 29, 2007, 01:34:55]


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