Commission forgoes action on employees’ pay supplement

The Sarasota County commissioners (at the rear) listen to budget information during a session this week in the Think Tank at the Administration Building in Sarasota. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The Sarasota County Commission ended two-and-a-half days of budget discussions Friday, June 15, without taking action on County Administrator Randall Reid’s recommendation that they consider making a one-time payment to non-union employees in the 2013 fiscal year budget.

Reid told The Sarasota News Leader after the meeting that it would be up to the board to bring up the issue again, if it wanted to provide the payments.

Reid had made his recommendation at the outset of the June 12 budget workshop, pointing out that, “with the uptick in the economy,” the county should “take some recognition of our employees’ efforts.”

He suggested $1,000 be provided in a lump-sum payment to each non-union employee after the Oct. 1 start of the 2013 fiscal year.

Most of those employees, he said, had not had a raise in five years.

At the end of the June 13 budget discussions, Reid offered several cost scenarios for the payment, depending on whether it was offered to all non-union employees or just to those at certain pay levels. For example, he said, executive directors and general managers of departments could be excluded.

During his June 15 recap of matters the commissioners had asked staff to handle, as a result of their discussions earlier this week, Reid said the commissioners could provide direction on the lump-sum payment later that day or during their next budget work session, which has been scheduled for Aug. 20.

“I’m pretty uneasy about this [payment recommendation],” Commissioner Nora Patterson said, “because I think that what we’re going to find out is that the union-represented folks are going to want the same [kind of payment], because some of them have lost step increases.”

Moreover, she said, she was concerned that the county’s charter officials (such as the clerk of court and the sheriff) might want to give their employees lump-sum payments as well, “and the potential for this could go way beyond the $700,000 or $800,000 we were discussing, to several million [dollars].”

Patterson added, “We need to remember that our tax base still did decrease.”

The overall county property tax base declined by 1.17%, although a 4% drop had been anticipated.

“I’m not going to vote to support something where I have no idea what the ultimate price will be,” Patterson said.

Reid responded that the proposed budget accounted for negotiations with the unions over their members’ pay.

Then Commissioner Joe Barbetta said, “I think it’s pretty easy to see what the unionized pay scale has been in the past five years, and there’s no doubt, between five years ago and today, that pay has increased … either step or built-in increases.”

“That’s true of some [union employees],” Patterson said. “I don’t think that it’s true of everybody, for example, the Teamsters, and that’s kind of what I’d like nailed down before we take a vote.”

Later in the June 15 discussions, Chairwoman Christine Robinson reiterated a point she had made both during the June 12 meeting and in an interview with the News Leader — that the county needed to put more money into its road resurfacing projects.

She added that she receives more complaints about the condition of the roads in South County than any other county issue.