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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Hillsborough County employees could see a pay boost next year

15

February

Hillsborough County government employees could experience something they haven't seen in three years -- a bump in pay.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said it is a priority of his in fiscal year 2013 to show employees who have seen their ranks thinned and their pay frozen or cut that their hard work in trying times has been appreciated. More importantly, there appeared to be consensus among county commissioners that modest financial bonuses may at last be justified when they met for their first budget workshop of the year Wednesday.

That's a key word here: bonuses. Any bump in pay would likely be a one-time payment, not affecting salaries or hourly wages going forward. And it would be tied to performance, as is required under recent changes to state law.

However, Merrill said, the intent would be to give as many employees as possible a bonus if they've been doing good work. He said it's too early to give even a range for how much employees might expect, other than to say it will be modest but "meaningful."

"It's going to be enough to be meaningful," Merrill said after the workshop. ""But I don't think we will be able to do enough for folks to be made whole."

Merrill said the county has had several valued employees leave in recent years. Commissioner Mark Sharpe described running into a county employee as she worked a second job and other board members said the county is at risk of losing talented workers as the economy rebounds.

"People really have sacrificed an awful lot," said Sharpe, a Republican.

Democrat Les Miller noted the time and date in memorializing Sharpe's comments in favor of giving employees some form of financial recognition. "I agree with Commissioner Sharpe. That doesn't happen too often.

"They've taken a beating," Miller said of county employees a moment or two later. "And we don't need to beat them anymore."

The comments came even as Merrill's budget workers informed commissioners that, for another year, overall tax revenues will fall for the county -- to the tune of $14.5 million based on current estimates. County Economist Kevin Brickey said foreclosures and short sales continue to depress home values in particular, driving down property tax receipts, which pay for much of the county's operations.

The good news is he and others at the county believe home and other property prices may at last be hitting bottom. So that may allow the county to justify selectively tapping reserves and taking other steps knowing that the money flow may be leveling out or improving moving forward.

Merrill's budget staff also outlined other likely measures to bridge the revenue shortfall. That includes continued elimination of vacant positions, clamping down further on overtime and refinancing some of the county's debt to take advantage of favorable interest rates, among other measures.

The county will be evaluating all of its property holdings to see if any of it can be sold and examining leases on buildings it doesn't own to see if some of them can be ended since the shrunken county workforce requires less office space.

Since 2008, the value of taxable property countywide has fallen 29 percent, according to Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's office. Merrill and his predecessor have cut the number of positions that report to him by 25 percent since 2007.

 

[Last modified: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 7:14pm]

    

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