Gainesville city budget again includes money for raises
Published: Monday, July 22, 2013 at 4:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 22, 2013 at 4:49 p.m.
Keeping with the practice of recent years, Gainesville's proposed budget includes an increase to employee salaries.
If approved, the 2 percent raises would make fiscal year 2014 the sixth time in the past seven years employees have received a salary increase.
But the prospect was cast into doubt during a lengthy Monday meeting on the Gainesville Regional Utilities budget.
Commissioner Randy Wells raised the possibility of eliminating raises for GRU and general government employees as a cost-cutting move.
"It gives me no joy to say that," Wells added.
The City Commission will meet to discuss the general government budget today and has another meeting on the GRU budget scheduled for Thursday.
For the current budget year, the combined budget impact of 2 percent raises for Gainesville Regional Utilities and the city's general government was approximately $1.54 million. For the upcoming budget year, the projected impact is an additional $1.5 million.
The salaries of the City Commission and mayor also have increased. From 2007 through 2013, commissioners' salaries rose from almost $28,715 to approximately $32,250, and the salary of the mayor rose from about $36,550 to a little more than $41,000, increases of about 12 percent.
Under a city ordinance, elected officials' salaries rise or fall according to changes in the consumer price index over the 12-month period from August to August, so the amount of any potential raises for next fiscal year are not yet determined.
The elected officials may not receive any raise depending on the commission decision on employee raises.
Monday, City Clerk Kurt Lannon said that, if the city's management, administrative and professional employees do not receive a raise in a budget year, commissioners and the mayor, under city ordinance, also would not receive an increase.
Because a majority of city employees are represented by one of five unions, the amount of their raises and the timing of when they actually receive them depend on the collective bargaining process. Some employees will go years without a pay increase as union negotiations carry on and then receive a payout through a retroactive raise.
That was the case with the contracts the two law enforcement unions and the City Commission recently approved, and it will be the case when the fire union and the city eventually reach an agreement after lengthy negotiations.
Depending on the collective bargaining unit, the City Commission's approved wage increases for employees varied between 13.25 percent and approximately 16 percent for budget years 2008 through 2013.
The city's management, administrative and professional employees not represented by a union typically receive a salary increase in line with what was approved for the unions.
Commissioner Lauren Poe said a "minimal increase in salaries is a sound administrative decision" that has "minimal impact on the budget."
"I think you have to treat your workforce well," Poe said. "I feel we have an excellent workforce in the city and the utility, and they should be compensated for that. Two percent is not a lot."
Commissioner Todd Chase, on the other hand, said the approval of annual wage increases compounds the financial impact over time. When the commission approved 2 percent salary increases for non-union employees during last summer's budget hearings, Chase cast the lone dissenting vote. He said raises are not one of the largest financial issues facing the city, but they are one of the few "levers" the commission has to pull to reduce upward pressure on the budget.
"It's not that I don't want to recognize people and increases in the cost of living," Chase said. "I would say I view my role as taking care of what's best for the citizens and not what is best for the employees."
The salary bumps at City Hall come at a time when state data show that average public sector salaries outpace private pay in Alachua County. Last year, average local government pay was $40,078, compared with $35,354 in the private sector, according to state government's Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.
The difference was more pronounced for state jobs, with average wages of $57,740, and federal jobs, with an average of $69,055, according to that state report.
A winter 2011 report in the Journal of Economic Perspectives said public sector employees were more likely to have bachelor's and post graduate degrees, a factor in higher average pay, and were also more likely to receive employer-funded health care and retirement plans.
The aftermath of the recession has brought increased debate and scrutiny of public employees' salaries and benefits "as all levels of government grapple with budget shortfalls, stagnant and declining revenues and increasing service demands," according to a January report that two Florida State University faculty members authored for a publication known as the Compensation & Benefits Review.
That report noted that studies comparing public and private sector pay often have "conflicting results." There are not comparable private sector jobs for public jobs such as firefighter or police officer and salaries peak at a different age range in the private sector, that study noted.
That study concluded that, in Florida, state and local workers, as a whole, have higher average compensation than private workers. But those government workers "have a much higher average age and level of education compared" with private sector workers.
Comparing workers with similar experience and education levels, the study concluded the private sector workers were better compensated.
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