Published: Sep 22, 2010 5:16 AM EDT
Updated: Sep 22, 2010 2:16 AM EDT

CAPE CORAL, Fla. - A last minute change in Cape Coral's 2011 budget left city employees with uncertainty Tuesday night.

Two weeks ago, the council approved a tentative budget calling for about $6 million in across-the-board payroll cuts.  But city employees wanted the council to go back to an earlier budget plan, that used reserve money to avoid pay cuts.

A standing-room only crowd of city employees filled council chamber Tuesday night asking for them to reconsider.

"I need what I have, I can't afford to take less," said one worker.

"We have done everything you as council has asked of us," a city police officer told the council.

Employees say they've endured wage freezes and furloughs in recent years, and didn't want their paychecks to take a hit again.

"So how can you look a city employee in the eyes after all we gave up already and say you deserve a cut in pay," said a city public works employee.

On a 5-3 vote, the council rejected a budget plan that would use reserve keep pay steady.  But minutes later, by the same vote, the council opted for a last-minute compromise that would cut less, while putting money in city reserves to face future deficits.  Early calculations now called for about $1.7 million in reductions.

"I thought by splitting the difference, sticking with the city guidelines, I made a motion to pass a budget with two months operating expenses in it," said council member Bill Deile, who proposed the compromise.

The last second change left many of the numbers unclear, but union officials say the majority of the council's intent seemed clear.

"The message they're sending us is,we're not going to work with you, we're just going to tell you what its going to be," said fire union president Mark Muerth.  "That's the big problem."

Muerth said he was told pay cuts under the newly approved budget would amount to around two-percent.  But he says that needs to be finalized in contract negotiations.  Some council members expressed concern that their bargaining power may have been hurt by approving a budget that called for pay cuts.