Baker suggests ways to pay for 1.5% county raise


Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 6:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 6:50 p.m.

Alachua County employees have feared fiscal year 2014 would become their seventh without a raise, but County Manager Betty Baker presented options to the County Commission Tuesday that would help cover a 1.5-percent pay increase.

That is only half of what the county had initially planned to give workers, but the 3 percent raise was scrapped early in the budget development process due to various financial constraints.

Baker gave the commission her suggestions for how to fund the pay increase during Tuesday’s budget meeting. She proposed delaying a heating and air conditioning, or HVAC, project for the Alachua County Criminal Courthouse with that agency’s blessing to save $489,000, which is an idea that Commissioner Lee Pinkoson has previously discussed with his fellow board members. Other changes included eliminating four court services positions -- none of which would require layoffs -- for a savings of $125,000 and delaying the replacement of carpeting and related maintenance at the County Administration Building to free up more money.

The staff is reviewing these options in order to develop a concrete plan for funding the 1.5 percent raise, for which it is budgeting around $1.4 million.

During Tuesday’s discussion, Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson said he had concerns about delaying maintenance work but thinks delaying raises another year would be worse. The employees need raises now, he said.

County Public Works employee Michael Lucas told the commission Tuesday about the words of support he and other workers received from local residents over Labor Day weekend as they raised awareness about the county’s pay-raise predicament.

They got roughly 520 signatures in about three days for a petition asking the county to provide a 3 percent raise for the upcoming fiscal year, Lucas said. The community support meant a lot to him and his fellow employees, he said.

“It was overwhelming,” he said. “I was taken aback by it all.”

Lucas said he and his coworkers love serving the community. They just wish they could make a living doing it, he said. After six years without raises, making a living has become difficult for many of them, he added.

Lucas told The Sun that employees he has spoken with are split over whether a 1.5 percent raise is good enough for now or too little too late.

“Half of them find it very insulting and the other half will take whatever they can get. What they really want is to be able to look to the future and make plans for themselves,” he said.

A 1.5 percent raise paired with the promise of a bigger raise the following year or a promise of more regular raises could show employees that they are valued and will continue to be treated that way in the coming years, Lucas said.

The County Commission also made tentative decisions Tuesday regarding the fiscal year 2014 property tax rates for its various funding sources, giving staff enough time to prepare an updated budget for the upcoming public hearing on Sept. 10.

Commissioners decided to keep the property tax rates they tentatively set in July for the county’s general fund and three municipal services taxing units, although commissioners could still change their minds before they approve the final budget. The MSTUs fund law enforcement, unincorporated services and fire rescue.

The board also discussed whether the constitutional officers, whose employees would also receive the 1.5 percent pay increase that the county is working on, should help pay for raises. Staff told the board some constitutional officers have suggested project delays that could help fund the raise, such as the delay of the courthouse HVAC project.

During the meeting, Commissioner Mike Byerly suggested Sheriff Sadie Darnell could adjust her budget to help pay for her agency’s share of the across-the-board raise.

The commission is reducing its expenses to try to provide a 1.5 percent pay increase, Byerly said. “I expect the same thing from the constitutionals,” he said.

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

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