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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – One day after the firefighters union ousted its leader, the Nutter Administration announced the mayor is setting aside more than $30 million towards a resolution of its long-running contract dispute with the union.

The Nutter Administration has been in court since 2009 battling an arbitration award to the firefighters, which the mayor says the city cannot afford. The mayor is not dropping that appeal, but he is now, for the first time, setting aside $31 million towards whatever amount will be owed the firefighters when the matter is finally settled.

Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald says, “The appeal to the courts is still in play. This is a budgetary matter, related to the flow of tax revenues into city coffers. We’re up about $40 million  in tax revenue and so a decision was made to set aside a portion of those funds as part of what is available for resolution of the case, if required.”

The spokesman for the firefighter’s union, Frank Keel, calls the mayor’s move “a baby step.”

“This could be the start of a more significant and meaningful negotiation,” Keel says. “We at least see this as the starting point for a fresh negotiation, a fresh approach to try to resolve this long-running dispute.”

This comes one day after Battalion Chief Joseph Schulle was elected head of the firefighter’s union (see related story), replacing Bill Gault, who had been a vocal critic of many of the mayor’s policies toward the fire department.

Nutter’s spokesman, McDonald, denies that the budget move is in response to Gault’s departure.

“This is directly related to an improving economy, and our ability to set aside funds. And that’s all.”

Members of City Council, lead by at-large Republican David Oh, have been criticizing the mayor recently for not setting aside more than $60 million that they say would have to be paid regardless of how the appeal of the award is resolved.

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