County administrator pushes for employee lump sum payments

Sarasota County Administrator Randy Reid

After years of declining property tax revenue and budget shortfalls, Sarasota County Administrator Randy Reid delivered some positive news about the county’s economic condition and brought up a rare-in-these-times proposal during a Tuesday, June 12, commission budget workshop: a lump sum boost to employees’ bottom lines.

During his opening comments to the board, Reid floated the possibility of offering “non-bargaining unit” — i.e. non-union — employees a “lump sum-type payment” that would be paid out just after the 2013 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. Reid said many of those employees had not seen a raise in five years.

“We have discussed a figure of $1,000,” Reid said. “That has been done in both Manatee County and also Longboat in the past year.”

Reid argued that, “with the uptick in the economy,” the county should “take some recognition of our employees’ efforts.”

Reid tells the News Leader the proposal grew out of internal discussions and that, if approved, the payments would go to a wide range of folks — from library clerks to technology and planning experts. He emphasizes that the payments would be a one-time affair, different from an across-the-board percentage salary increase that might commit the county to future funding it might not have. According to Reid, the payment will help keep the county competitive, as the job market gains steam and more employees might be tempted to jump ship.

The commissioners seemed receptive to the idea, but wanted more detail. “I’m not so sure that that is so necessary for the higher-end employees,” Commissioner Nora Patterson said. “On the other hand, there are not a lot of them.” She also requested more information about how the bonus might impact employees in the offices of the county’s constitutional officers. “We really don’t know whether the constitutional officers have given their staff raises, and so I would want to know that,” she said.

Reid promised to put together a more detailed “package” on the subject, but pushed strongly for the general idea. “I feel obligated to represent the needs of our non-bargaining unit employees as the county administrator,” he said, “and that’s why I do bring this up.” He calls the issue “critical.”

Commissioner Joe Barbetta said he has “no objection” to the concept, but suggested a salary cap — say $90,000 — on who would be eligible for the payment. “There’s no doubt that our existing employees, our rank-and-file employees, should get something,” he said.

“I will be happy to provide some kind of breakdown,” Reid responded, again advocating for the payment. “We would like to see our lower-level employees receive something.”

Commissioner Christine Robinson was the only official who spoke out against the proposal. “There is no doubt that our employees have worked extremely, extremely hard these last few years,” she said. “However, seeing that we still have a drop this year [in property tax values] and seeing that we still have many needs, including a road need that we’re really looking at, I think this money should be put into those roads.”

“This particular year, I cannot support it,” she concluded.

When asked by the News Leader about her opposition, Robinson reiterated her belief that road resurfacing projects should come before the payments, emphasizing that her stance should not be construed as a reflection of how she views county staffers. “Our employees work really, really hard and they’ve done a lot with a lot less,” she said.

During Wednesday morning’s followup workshop, Barbetta again brought up the proposal. “Can we eliminate the word ‘bonus’ and call it a ‘supplement’ or ‘adjustment’?” he asked.

“Salary ‘adjustment’ implies it’s going to be every year,” Patterson said. “I think we need to stay away from that.”

Reid calls it a “one-time lump sum payment.”

Late Wednesday, he delivered a six-page PowerPoint presentation with several different scenarios and their financial impacts on the county budget. According to that data, the average salary of a non-union county employee is $48,703. One proposal shows slightly more than 1,000 employees eligible for the boost; another, excluding managers and directors, would decrease that number to 991. If the commission decides to accept an $80,000 salary cap, the number would drop to 952. A $50,000 salary cap would bring the number of those eligible down to 591.

Robinson says she expects the board will “likely” make a decision on the proposal this Friday, June 15, the third day of budget workshops scheduled for this week. The budget as a whole won’t be finalized till September.

Additional reporting by Rachel Brown Hackney.