Employees upset locally over high court's pension ruling

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.

The Florida Supreme Court ruling upholding government employees' mandatory 3 percent pension contributions dashed hopes among some area employees of regaining control of that portion of their salaries.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said most of her employees seemed upset by the decision.

"My sense from the majority of the employees is that they're disappointed in the ruling," she said.

One silver lining is the freeing up of money from the separate holding accounts the Sheriff's Office, Alachua County government and other constitutional officers set aside to reserve money they would have needed to reimburse employees if the court had ruled against the state mandate.

"Regardless of which way the ruling went, we were prepared for it," Darnell said.

With those reimbursements rendered unnecessary, the Sheriff's Office can use the money it reserved for other purposes.

Darnell said she hopes to help offset the 3 percent reduction in workers' paychecks, possibly by using some of the money that had been set aside for potential reimbursements to give workers a pay bump instead.

She is evaluating the feasibility of that and other options, which depend on the money available. The Sheriff's Office already has incurred the unexpected expense this fiscal year of placing deputies in local elementary schools in the wake of the recent shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Employees at the Sheriff's Office weren't the only ones upset by the court decision. Karen McCann, president of the Alachua County Education Association, said she was disappointed, calling the mandatory contribution a tax on working people.

"The legislation in the state of Florida balanced the budget on the backs of state workers," McCann said.

The requirement also will make it harder to recruit teachers out of college to make their careers in Florida.

"A lot of young teachers I talk to want to stay only for a few years," she said.

Most University of Florida employees aren't affected by the ruling, said Paula Varnes Fussell, vice president for Human Resource Services at UF.

UF provided a 3 percent pay increase to offset the mandatory pension contribution starting in March 2012. The roughly 1,700 faculty represented by the United Faculty of Florida union, which didn't agree to the proposal, will be affected, as previously reported in The Sun.

University officials assumed the state Legislature had the legal authority to establish this requirement and decided to offer raises based on that assumption, Fussell said.

While she hadn't heard anything about the ruling from faculty or staff Thursday, Fussell said, "they were happy to get the 3 percent increase when they received it."

Joey Flechas and Clare Lennon contributed to this report.

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