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No lay-offs budget plan approved

By Staff | Sep 26, 2011

City council approved the fiscal year 2012 budget on Thursday without the use of what many thought were forthcoming layoffs to police and fire departments.

Council approved the tax-reduction, $135 million operating budget unanimously. But it was the power they granted city manager Gary King during the first public budget hearing that had the city’s safety personnel worried for their jobs, as 11 police officers and 21 fire fighters were being eyed for reduction.

Those 21 fire fighters wore white T-shirts numbered 1 – 21 and stood before council to show them what they said was the human face of possible job loss.

“It was important to show the public what we looked like and not just be numbers on paper,” said Jason Spinner. “We’re realists … we’re not asking for a raise and we know concessions will have to be made to make up for the deficit.”

It was a $4.5 million hole that had to be filled when police and fire unions failed to ratify their contracts which prompted the council to allow King to look at layoffs.

The mayor also had communications with Wackenhut, who pitched its services to privative the fire department, along with Sheriff Mike Scott about bringing Lee deputies to the Cape.

King eventually had a meeting with Wackenhut to hear their pitch, but he said Thursday that outsourcing either police or fire was never a reality.

“There are no plans to outsource police and fire and there never has been,” King said.

Cape Coral Professional Firefighters Union Local 2424 President Mark Muerth said King still retains the power to implement a reduction in force and that worries him.

“The authority was given to the city manager to do layoffs. It’s my understanding he says tomorrow the only way we’re going to get there is layoffs, he has the authority to do it,” Muerth said.

Although council gave King the authority to implement layoffs and furloughs, no one on the dais supported such a move.

“I think the budget as submitted does not require we have layoffs and furlough time. I’m opposed to both because they reduce the level of services,” Councilman Bill Deile said.

The budget had to be set by Oct. 1st, but Finance Director Victoria Bateman said the budget can be adjusted throughout the year with amendments.

The city continues to negotiate with both police and fire bargaining units, with the police recently submitting a proposal directly to council members.

“I was very encouraged to see positive movement in that direction,” said Council man Kevin McGrail. “No one feels a reduction in force is the way to go.”

The tax rate approved was 7.8702 mills, down from 7.9702.