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Budget Listening Tour hears heavy feedback from city employees

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Last night’s city-sponsored FY16 Budget Listening Tour saw a high turnout from St. Petersburg city employees.

Their cry: higher pay.

Despite being assured that a 3 percent pay raise would be written into St. Petersburg’s FY16 budget, via a prerecorded video from Mayor Rick Kriseman, city workers from various departments still expressed their need for more money during the event’s public comment section.

“I feel like it’s a slap in the face,” said the Wastewater Department’s Lamont Ellison of the 3 percent hike. “I’m just asking that the city be fair. We deserve more. We work hard.”

An employee from the Pinellas County library system spoke of her inability to live out the American dream with her current salary, despite having what many would consider a good job with benefits and a retirement pension. “To be able to get married, buy a house and have children. I can’t afford that.”

Phillip Garrett, a longtime St. Pete resident, went on to point out how high insurance costs offset low raises: “Every time you give [city employees] 3 percent, the insurance eats it up,” concluded Mr. Garrett.

Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes admitted that the 3 percent raise wasn’t ideal, but that he believed city employees, in coming to the budget listening tours, were on the right track to further change.

“I don’t want to say that getting to [a] 3 percent [raise] is getting to a level playing field or being fair […] But what I want to tell you is that it went from 2 percent to 3 percent because of what you all did in the past month, by coming to these meetings.”

The 3 percent raise will set the city back $1.8 million. St. Pete officials are hoping the expense will be covered by rising property values.

Other significant public discussion points included money for a summer youth job program, help with assisted living for older youth who are being aged out of their foster placement locations, restoring library budget cuts set during the recession, and bullying and harassment by mid-level management in the city workplace.

“There’s a lot of hurt going on,” said the St. Pete Human Resource Department’s Alfonzo Nixon of the bullying. “There are a lot of people who’ve been in a position of power [that] think they can control people and say anything they want to them. And it goes down the line […] They’re hurting people […] and it has to stop.”

One of the more unique ideas to come from the two-hour-long listening tour was proposed by Kenneth Butler, a longtime St. Pete resident and landlord who has had two property damage incidents occur since 2013 due to police chases. Most recently, a garage with an upstairs apartment of Mr. Butler’s was nearly destroyed after a chase for a stolen vehicle.

“There’s supposed to be a no-chase policy,” said Mr. Butler of the St. Petersburg Police Department’s stance on car chases. “So why are they still chasing?”

Mr. Butler’s proposal was for the city to develop some kind of fund to cover damages resulting from police car chases.

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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