Pinkoson seeking support for smaller raise to county employees


Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson talks during a joint County Commission/Gainesville City Commission meeting in this Aug. 12, 2013 file photo. County Commissioenr Susan Baird is at right.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, August 26, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 26, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.

As employee morale suffers, Alachua County commissioners and staff are crunching numbers and analyzing one dollar sign after another to see if they can find a way to pay for employee raises for the next fiscal year.

Commissioner Lee Pinkoson already has an idea, although he’ll need the support of his fellow board members and possibly the sheriff to pull it off.

The county’s initial budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year included a 3 percent, across-the-board raise, which would cost $2,082,523. That pay increase has been eliminated, however, because of financial factors that have arisen since the budget was introduced in July.

When the commission set a lower tentative general fund property tax rate than staff had suggested, it reduced the government’s projected revenue by around $1.45 million, according to a recent memo from County Manager Betty Baker.

Additionally, while the county originally expected to reap a savings of around $646,000 in utility costs, it now projects a cost increase of $282,000 due to the rate impact of the biomass plant, which is set to go online later this year.

Pinkoson says he doesn’t think that level of a pay increase is possible anymore, although he hopes to find the funding for at least a 1.5 percent raise.

It wouldn’t be as much as the county had hoped to give its employees — but at least it would be something, he said.

“All I can say is that, as one commissioner, the hope is that this will demonstrate that we very much care about what they do,” he said.

He suggested the county could save $100,000 to put toward raises by reallocating the portion of the gas tax funding that goes toward the tree planting program. The tree planting work could be paid for through the county’s tree mitigation program instead, he said.

Then, commissioners could delay certain capital improvement projects in order to free up money for another capital project, the heating and air-conditioning project for the Alachua County Criminal Courthouse. The county has allocated $489,000 for the HVAC project, but Pinkoson said it can free up that $489,000 by delaying other projects and using that funding for the HVAC instead.

He also recommended taking out a loan for the relocation of the Supervisor of Elections Office and the Rescue Station 9 capital project. The county is looking for a new office for the Supervisor of Elections, which it plans to relocate before the presidential election in 2016. Although the cost of the new supervisor facility is undetermined because a place hasn’t been chosen yet, Pinkoson guessed it could cost around $2 million to buy a building.

The county has allocated $750,000 toward the rescue station project for fiscal year 2014, which he said could be added into the loan. It could pay the loan back over a seven- to 10-year period, which he estimated would leave about $350,000 of the budgeted rescue station funding for raises. The other $400,000 would go toward the loan, although these figures are tentative.

Those changes would amount to $939,000 that could be used on raises, he said. Additional cuts could be made to make up the rest of the money, he said, possibly with the help of the Sheriff’s Office.

Commissioner Mike Byerly told The Sun he was concerned about Pinkoson’s suggestion that the county take out a loan, in part to help pay for raises. He said he doesn’t think financing a pay increase is the right way to address the issue.

“I think that’s a very reckless way to provide raises,” he said.

Borrowing money to cover raises may be more reckless than using one-time money to manage recurring expenses, he said.

Byerly said he would prefer to pay for raises through a property tax increase, which would require sending out new Truth in Millage notices since the commission has already set its tentative millage rates for fiscal year 2014. He and Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson supported doing just that at a budget meeting last week, while the other three commissioners voted against it. Pinkoson also offered his proposal to pay for raises during that meeting.

Sending out new TRIM notices is a confusing, extensive proposition, so Byerly said he understood why the other board members didn’t support it. But he said it’s the only option the county has left.

Byerly said he won’t vote for a budget that doesn’t include a raise for employees, pointing out that six years without one has made the county increasingly noncompetitive and led some of its best employees to take jobs elsewhere. He said he also was concerned that Pinkoson’s suggested 1.5 percent raise was too low.

“We’re not really saving taxpayers any money by shortchanging our employees,” he said.

Pinkoson emphasized that something is better than nothing. He said he wants to extend at least the 1.5 percent pay increase to employees, although he is willing to settle for a one-time bonus of around $750 or so if the former isn’t possible.

Although the county hasn’t provided raises to its employees in six years, Pinkoson pointed out it did give many workers a 3 percent increase earlier this year to offset their state-mandated pension contributions.

“I know that it’s unfortunate that we haven’t been able to do more for them,” he said. “And while I certainly understand that that’s not something tangible as far as it’s not dollars that you’re putting in your pocket, it was something that ultimately is to the employees’ benefit.”

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

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