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Cape Coral firefighter raises pass by split vote

By Staff | Nov 26, 2014

Hundreds of members of the city of Cape Coral’s general employees union packed Council Chambers Monday night to vent their frustration with the city’s contract negotiations.

Those who chose to speak at the podium reminded City Council that their union was the first to take pay cuts and pay more toward their retirement package. Since council approved 5 percent pay increases for the police and fire unions effective Oct. 1 plus a 5 percent retro increase back to July 1, the general employees feel they are not being treated fairly because council is hesitating in negotiating on a retro increase for them.

All who spoke said seven years is long enough not to have had a pay raise. The said they have done more work with less staff during that time, many doing the job of two or three people. They said the city balked at the retro pay over concerns that there was not enough money available to give retro pay to the 300-member union. They also said they are in favor of the police and fire pay increases with retro pay.

Council asked the employees for a little patience since there had been only one negotiating session. That process is just beginning.

Monday night, council voted 5-3 on resolutions to extend the fire department union members and the non-bargaining fire chief, deputy chief and division chiefs the same 5 percent raise on Oct. 1 plus the 5 percent raise retroactive to July 1.

Council members Rana Erbrick, Richard Leon and Derrick Donnell cast the no votes.

“I’m on board with the 5 percent raise,” said Erbrick, “but the retro 5 percent forces me to vote no on this. Ten percent in a matter of months is a lot. We want to be as equitable across the board as possible. I have no problem with any of the other part of the contracts.”

“I don’t think council understands the money impact of the retro 5 percent,” said Donnell. “It was not included in this budget cycle because it came in after the budget. I don’t think the money is there and that’s just not good governance.”

City Manager John Szerlag indicated that the retro pay to July 1 for the union members will cost the city $744,643 which was not included in the 2014 budget, and $26,752 for the non-bargaining chiefs.

“The average pay raise across the country is 3 percent,” said Leon. “Every agency has issues all across the country. That’s why I can not support this.”

Part of the available money issue is that the city’s Fire Services Assessment is still tied up in the Florida Supreme Court, which is expected to rule soon on the lawsuit over the methodology used to figure the assessment. Those funds collected for 2014 and 2015 have been held in an escrow account until the ruling.

“Here we go again,” said Councilman John Carioscia. “It’s a matter of are we going to take care of our workers or not? The fire assessment is not going away. Even if we lose in the Supreme Court we’ll just come back and use a different methodology. We need to move forward and do what’s right.”

In other business:

n Council was charged with appointing nine citizens to the Charter Review Commission from among the 15 people who applied.

Council heard remarks from all but two of the 15 applicants before voting 8-0 on the nine with the most individual votes from council members. The new commission members are: Otis Dykes, B.A. Ingram, Sherry Leonard, Stacy Lomonaco, Graham Morris, Tesha Crego-Rojas, Carmen Salome, Deborah Strode and Gery Treichler.

The commission will begin reviewing the city charter and make recommendations to council for possible changes over the next six months. Any changes approved by council then go on a ballot for voter approval as charter amendments.

n Council unanimously approved a resolution vacating a portion of the Patricia Canal, public utility and drainage easements for a five-acre tract of land assembled by Lee Memorial Hospital and rezoned for professional office use at the southeast corner of Surfside Boulevard and Veterans Parkway.

The hospital plans to build an outpatient clinic on the site. Upon receiving the proper permits, Lee Memorial hopes to open the clinic in the fall of 2015.

n Surplus road paving funds from the city’s Southeast Cape project were transferred to the Northeast Cape where contractors discovered some roads needed leveling to improve drainage and more asphalt than first anticipated. Council approved the transfer of just over $125,000 to finish the paving.