Some county workers get 3% pay raise to offset pension cost


In this July 9, 2012 file photo, Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, at center, poses with Capt. Latrell Simmons and his wife, ACSO deputy Jackie Simmons, a promotion ceremony. Darnell, like the county and other constitutional officers, is seeking to give employees a raise to compensate for new pension costs.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.

The Alachua County Commission this week gave its employees in the Florida Retirement System their first pay raise in about six years, a move intended to offset the state-mandated 3 percent contribution they must make toward their pensions.

County Commission employees also will receive a lump-sum payment restoring to them the money they have paid into the retirement system since the mandate took effect in July 2011.

The 3 percent increase and the lump-sum payment do not apply to the county commissioners themselves or the county's constitutional officers and their staffs. However, Acting County Manager Rick Drummond said it appears the constitutional officers will follow suit and extend the pay bump and lump-sum payment to their employees as well.

The commission approved the increases for its employees in a series of 4-1 votes on Tuesday, with Commissioner Susan Baird in dissent.

Baird said the raises will cost the county roughly $1.5 million. Drummond could not provide a precise amount.

Baird stressed the need to consider taxpayers as well as employees and pointed out the money, if given to employees, couldn't then be used for other purposes that could help bring taxpayer relief.

The lump-sum payments and rate increases will probably be put into effect within the next month or so, Drummond said.

Although employees have been contributing to the state retirement system since mid-2011, the county has been waiting until a related court case was decided to see if the requirement would stick. In January, the Florida Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of the state government and against its workers by upholding the retirement-contribution mandate.

The county previously set aside funding with the intention of using it to cover the reimbursements for employees of both the commission and constitutional officers if the court upheld the state requirement, Drummond said.

Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter plans to extend a 3 percent increase to her employees as well to offset their retirement contributions.

"It's to make them whole," she said. "It's to put them back even with where they were."

Sheriff Sadie Darnell will also offer eligible employees the rate increase.

"I will tell you straight up, it's the greatest need our employees have," she said of restoring and offsetting their retirement contributions. "And then our greatest need is to retain qualified and confident employees."

Darnell pointed out that county employees, and by extension her own, have not received a raise in almost six years. She has lost some employees to private-sector jobs that boast higher pay.

This 3 percent rate increase and lump-sum payment at least help balance things by offsetting the state mandate, Darnell said. Because the pay bump will only offset employees' retirement contributions, this isn't considered a true raise, she said.

Still, it's a welcome influx of money for her employees, she said.

"Whether it evens it out or not, it doesn't matter," she said. "It's money."

Drummond said he is trying to work an across-the-board, 3 to 5 percent raise for county employees into the budget proposal for the next fiscal year. He hopes to find the revenue to cover raises, not just for the commission's employees but the constitutional officers' as well. The commission is open to considering it, he said.

Darnell and Carpenter both support giving employees that raise.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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