Council silent on garbage fee hike

But members weren't so quiet on the mayor's other cost-cutting measures.

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer
Published February 14, 2008

TAMPA - Mayor Pam Iorio has proposed increasing garbage collection fees to offset income losses from changes in state property tax rules.

The $1.58 per month increase would free up $3.2-million in the city's operating budget, she said Wednesday in a special meeting she called to discuss next year's budget with the City Council.

The council will have to approve any increase in fees.

Council members offered no comment on the increase, but did reiterate concerns about Iorio's proposal to privatize some city services as well as spend $15-million on a new downtown park.

Iorio said preliminary figures show the city needs to cut $16.8-million from next year's budget to accommodate property tax reductions approved by Florida voters on Jan. 29.

Iorio said the city will save $4.5-million next year by retiring a construction loan and postponing up to $3-million in small construction projects.

In November, Iorio unveiled a proposal to save $3.4-million next year by making technological improvements and laying off about 100 employees, mostly janitorial and security workers, and contracting their work out to private companies.

Council members, though, say they don't like the idea of the layoffs and privatization, which the mayor suggested as part of a plan she called Changing the Business of Government.

"We can put a nice name on it, but I think we have to address that," said council member John Dingfelder, noting that the plan means people who can least afford to lose their jobs will be out of work.

"We're going to have to agree to disagree on that point," Iorio told Dingfelder.

Iorio said she chose to contract out those jobs because the public won't feel the impact.

"When those contracts go to council, you all have every right to vote it down," she said. "But the cuts will be made somewhere else, and those cuts will be made in an area where the public will feel it."

Dingfelder said he'd rather eliminate positions through attrition.

"If we could solve it through attrition, every county and city throughout the state of Florida wouldn't be having the problems we're having," she said.

Council member Mary Mulhern suggested saving money through salary freezes or even rollbacks.

Iorio said contract negotiations with the firefighters union are already at an impasse because they can't agree on salaries. Iorio has offered a 5.8 percent raise, and the union wants what would amount to a 10 percent raise for some firefighters.

Dingfelder suggested Iorio reconsider spending $15-million to renovate Curtis Hixon Park. Workers have already started tearing down the old Tampa Museum of Art to make way for the park, which will also include new art and children's museums.

"I'm not saying we should leave a big hole in the ground," Dingfelder said. "What I'm saying is that maybe it's not a $15-million park this year. It could be a $1-million park. Put down some dirt, and put down some sod and make it look nice on a temporary basis until the city's on better footing."

Iorio said the park is integral to the new museums, and she has made commitments to stakeholders to revitalize the park.

"These are changes that are needed for future generations, and we intend to build them," Iorio said.

Iorio and council members agreed that the difficult process of cutting the budget would continue well into the future with more tax-cutting mandates likely to come from the Legislature and the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.