CLEARWATER – Placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Commissioners agreed Sept. 6 to put the matter of employee allowances on the next agenda.
“The sheriff is about to award a 4 percent supplemental payment effective Sept. 14,” County Administrator Bob LaSala told commissioners.
He said other cities, counties, school boards and others were giving some sort of compensation this year, including supplements of $1,200 or more, or an increase of ½ to 4 percent to base salaries.
“I thought this would be appropriate for board discussion, to weigh and consider the sheriff’s actions,” LaSala said. “I’m torn about this discussion. For four or five years, there has been no charge in salary, while there has been a cost increase in benefits and contributions to pensions. But we’re still in the throes of necessary transition out of the Great Recession that’s still not clear.”
Commission Chair John Morroni agreed it was time to discuss the matter “rather than being pushed against a wall” due to the one-time cost of living disbursement by the sheriff.
“Our employees are already talking about it,” Commissioner Norm Roche said.
Commissioner Karen Seel said she liked the idea of one-time funding of an equitable amount for all classified and exempt employees.
Morroni suggested $1,200 and extra time off – a one-time supplemental payment.
While some complained that everyone – commissioners and constitutional officers, including the sheriff – had talked about the need to provide better pay for employees during recent strategic sessions, with none saying they could do it, Commissioner Neil Brickfield said he “distinctly remembered the sheriff saying ‘I am doing it.’”
He asked how much the supplemental pay would cost and where it would come from in the current year’s budget. The pay would go to employees under the county administrator plus the constitutionals, except the sheriff. Part-time permanent employees would receive a pro-rated share.
LaSala estimated the cost at $3.45 million and said it could come from the stabilization level account or reserves, with the stabilization fund being the easiest thing to do.
Brickfield pointed out that two-thirds of the SLA was going to balance next year’s budget.
Commissioner Norm Roche suggested that the money come from general fund reserves.
“Doing something for our employees is real important,” Commissioner Nancy Bostock said. “I share the concern about where the money would come from, especially since we’re considering a tax increase for our citizens.”
She said residents had been told the county couldn’t absorb the additional cost of Medicaid coming from the state.
“Now we have another expense and we go straight to the reserves. I’m concerned about the different treatment,” she said.
She said the sheriff was able to give his employees extra pay from creating savings in his budget, but “we consider going to reserves for one-time funding.”
“Where do we fund it next year,” she said. “Employees will expect it next year.”
“We’re being put in a corner,” Commissioner Susan Latvala said, saying to do nothing for other county employees was “terribly unjust.”
Latvala suggested adding three extra days off – “use it or lose it,” plus the $1,200.
“We need to do something for our employees,” Commissioner Ken Welch agreed; however, he said he had wanted to wait another year.
“But I support the notion of doing something for employees. It is just a matter of how we fund it.”
He pointed out that the $85 million in reserves was already down to $81 million.
Bostock continued to express concern saying using either the SLA or the reserves to fund supplemental pay this year would just make it harder to balance next year’s budget.
“We’re being forced into this by the sheriff,” Roche said.
He said the other 2,800 county employees are asking ‘what are you going to do for us.’
“Going four to five years without a pay increase is a more compelling reason than what someone else has done,” Bostock said.
The commission unanimously agreed to consider the matter at the Sept. 18 meeting, which is also the date for the second and final public hearing on millage rates and the budget. Millage increases for the general fund, emergency medical services, several fire districts, Palm Harbor Community Services District received tentative approval Sept. 6.
The budget hearing begins at 6 p.m. in the fifth floor Assembly Room of the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.