08/01/2012 10:27 am ET

Michael Nutter, Philadelphia Mayor, To Fight Firefighter Pay Raise

You'd think that firefighters, of all people, would be able to get a pay raise if they wanted one. But Michael Nutter doesn't seem to agree.

Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia, plans to push back against a 3 percent pay bump for Philly firefighters, claiming city finances can't handle the strain, according to a report at Law360.

The pay raise was awarded by an arbitration panel. It will apply retroactively through July 2010, and cost the city about $238 million in all. Some 2,100 firefighters are slated to receive a raise, according to Bloomberg News.

Two of the three people on the arbitration panel said there's room in Philadelphia's budget for the pay bump, Bloomberg reports. The third member disagreed. Nutter, who cut his own pay in 2009, along with the pay of many of his top staffers -- though 22 of those staffers have since had their salaries restored, at a yearly cost of $116,400 to the city -- said he plans to go to a judge to appeal the panel's decision.

The push-pull over firefighters' salaries points toward a larger struggle that's taking place all over the country, as cities look for ways to save money by paying their civil servants less or employing fewer of them -- even when this leads to a drop in the quality of life for residents.

Budget concerns have led to firefighter layoffs in San Jose and Camden, New Jersey, the latter one of the country's most dangerous cities. Camden also laid off almost half its police force last year, causing a spike in crime, though some officers were later rehired.

For a few weeks this summer, police, firefighters and other public workers in Scranton, Pa., were getting a minimum-wage salary of $7.25 an hour. The city has since said it will provide back pay plus interest to all its employees.

In 2010, Denver scaled back on its trash-pickup services, which prompted complaints from locals that neighborhoods were becoming choked with garbage.

And in one of the most striking examples of city budget cuts being felt on the day-to-day level, the city of Highland Park, Mich., announced last fall that it would be tearing out 1,000 of its 1,500 streetlights in an effort to save on power costs.