County axes 3% raises from 2013-14 budget
Published: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 9:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 9:10 p.m.
After work on Wednesday, a group of Alachua County Public Works employees met to discuss the news that the long-awaited raises they hoped for have already been axed from the county's budget proposal.
Standing around a narrow parking strip near a pair of picnic tables just across the street from their workplace, they were candid about their mounting frustrations after six straight years without a cost-of-living increase with a seventh on the horizon.
The 3 percent raise included in Alachua County's initial budget proposal for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which would have applied to employees who work for the County Commission as well as the county's constitutional officers, was eliminated this week from an updated version of the budget presented to the board. Cutting the raises results in a savings of $2,082,523, according to a memo from County Manager Betty Baker.
One Public Works employee said Wednesday it doesn't matter how hard they work. You may be better at your job now than you were a few years ago, but your paycheck doesn't reflect it, that employee said.
Another employee at Public Works said workers hear big speeches about providing raises from commissioners every year. Then, swoop, the employee said, they pull the rug out from under you.
Larry Crawford, who has worked for the county for almost six years, told The Sun he is struggling to get by on a biweekly budget of $419 after covering his child support contributions.
"All they keep preaching to us is, ‘Be thankful you've got a job,' " he said. He said he hears it from plenty of people in upper management positions at the county.
But he said he knows employees who miss work because they can't always afford the gas they need to get there. He's toughing it out along with many of his coworkers as the cost of living increases but their wages don't, he said.
Crawford would like to stay with the county and turned down another job recently because he thought everyone would get a raise for the next fiscal year. Now that doesn't seem likely.
"I'm tired of suffering," he said. All he can do now, he said, is to suck it up and hope the County Commission decides to give them a raise after all.
The fiscal year 2013-14 budget has not been finalized, so further changes may be made.
Many county employees did receive a 3 percent increase earlier this year to offset their state-mandated Florida Retirement System pension contributions, although that wasn't viewed as a raise.
Growth Management Director Steve Lachnicht, who is serving as the interim budget director, said county departments made reductions to free up money for raises for the next fiscal year at the request of recently retired Acting County Manager Richard Drummond.
After repeatedly making deep cuts over the past few years, however, departmental budgets are tighter and more difficult to reduce, Lachnicht said.
"We were just chipping away at little things like how much we spent on postage and how much we spent on advertising ... but at the end of the day, there's not enough to cover the raises," Lachnicht said.
The departments' proposed reductions remain in the current proposal, but the raises aren't.
Meanwhile, the state budgeted for pay raises for state employees during the Legislature's spring session and the city of Gainesville is poised to offer another raise to its employees for the upcoming fiscal year, which would be the sixth time in the past seven years city workers have gotten a salary increase.
Seeing other government workers in the area receive raises makes it harder on county employees who haven't had one in six years, Lachnicht said.
"It's one thing when everybody's in the same place," Lachnicht said. "But when you're the only major government employer that's not able to produce a pay raise, that's probably more difficult to understand."
Eliminating the raises was one of several changes staff have made to the budget due to various factors since the budget was first introduced in July.
The County Commission's decision to designate a tentative general fund property tax rate of 8.799 mills, which is lower than the level staff originally proposed, reduced the county's projected revenue by about $1.45 million, according to Baker's memo. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value.
"The elimination of the employee raises is done with a great deal of concern for the continued decline in employee morale," Baker wrote in the memo. "With the Commission's permission, I reserve the right to come back mid-year for a pay increase should circumstances allow."
Lachnicht said there will probably be a lot of disappointment, collectively, among employees as they look ahead to another year without a raise. The county has a positive work environment apart from the discontent over the lack of raises, Lachnicht said, which he said has been helpful during recent years' financial hardships.
However, it has been challenging for employees watching the cost of living rise as their wages remain stagnant, Lachnicht said. The county has been standing still, he said, while everything else gets more expensive.
Some employees have left for other jobs, Lachnicht said, adding that this loss of talent isn't taken lightly. "There's people retiring and then there are people that are leaving for better opportunities, and unfortunately your most talented people are the ones most likely to find those opportunities," he said.
James Thomas, another county employee who met up with his coworkers after work Wednesday, said he would leave the county if he was a newer employee. He's been working for the county for 25 years so he's sticking around and hoping the situation improves, although he said he isn't optimistic.
Without raises, he said he can't keep up with the rising cost of living. "I mean, I'm barely getting by," he said.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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