Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Amid cuts, Clearwater's employee car allowance tops $91,000 a year

CLEARWATER — The city pays more than $91,000 a year in car allowances to 21 of its highest-paid employees, a perk that has survived even as officials cut dozens of rank-and-file jobs.

The employees get an average of $350 a month in car allowance on top of their salaries, which average about $103,000.

The employees, mostly directors working at the Municipal Services Building or City Hall, are not asked to track their travel.

Clearwater's $91,000 for car allowances dwarfs nearly all Tampa Bay governments, with one exception: St. Petersburg, where 141 employees get $201,000 a year in car allowances. St. Petersburg's perks were the subject of a recent St. Petersburg Times story.

But Clearwater's car allowances stand out because of the amount paid per person. St. Petersburg's monthly allowances range from $49 to $200, while Clearwater's range from $250 to $600. City Manager Bill Horne's allowance nets him $20 a day on top of his $160,000 annual salary.

It was Horne's idea, in 2003, to offer the allowances to department heads as a way to stay competitive with private employers.

"It's all about recruiting and retaining high-quality people," Horne said. "And that requirement is the same, no matter the economy."

The allowances, he said, remain important even as the city prepares to cut 28 positions in the fire department, maintenance, police dispatch and other departments, a draft budget shows. Sixteen of the 28 were employees who shifted to other city jobs; the remainder retired, left or were laid off.

Over the last five years, 278 positions, or 14 percent of Clearwater's peak work force, has been slashed as tax revenues declined because of falling property values.

The budget, Horne said, is not "so austere" that officials would need to consider trimming the allowances. "We have reached a point where we're all comfortable with the reduction in revenue," he said.

Though they did not set most of the allowances, current City Council members defended them as crucial to employees' contracts. Mayor Frank Hibbard called them "a matter of retention."

Vice Mayor George Cretekos was not so convinced. He said the council should pay more attention to staff payouts, adding that the allowances would be a topic during budget hearings next month.

"The environment has changed. The budgetary restraints on the city have become a little bit more pronounced," Cretekos said. "We have to make sure we can attract the very best. But there are other ways I think we could do that."

At a total of $91,800, Clearwater's car allowances top those of local governments with bigger jurisdictions. Hillsborough County pays out $90,564 a year; Pinellas, $18,000; Pasco, $10,800. Tampa pays $12,600 a year in car allowances to its seven City Council members and provides 20 officials with city-funded take-home cars.

Clearwater tops the car allowances of all North Pinellas cities — combined. Largo pays $26,000 to 11 employees. Dunedin pays $25,000 for nine employees, including $500 a month to City Manager Rob DiSpirito.

Tarpon Springs gives $18,000 a year to five officials and take-home vehicles to its city manager, police and fire chiefs. Safety Harbor pays $3,600 a year for City Manager Matthew Spoor and for the fire chief's take-home truck. Oldsmar pays $3,600 a year in car allowances for its leisure services director; four other administrators drive city take-home cars.

Besides allowances, Clearwater also pays for the purchase, fuel and maintenance for 146 cars and trucks that police, fire and Gas System employees can take home. They are asked to keep personal drives to a minimum but do not have to track their mileage or use.

Police Chief Anthony Holloway drives a 2011 Ford Taurus. The fire chief and eight division and assistant chiefs drive a fleet of Chevy Suburbans, Ford Crown Victorias and GMC Yukons.

Employees with allowances do not have to submit mileage or prove they are putting the money toward travel on city business. Twenty-five employees who have take-home cars, many of them police officers, refund the city a 29-cents-per-mile "commuter fee" for living outside a 15-mile radius of the city.

When asked what would happen if the allowances were reduced, human resources director Joe Roseto said, "How would you feel if somebody cut your pay?"

"They're human beings. They're going to have a reaction to that," said Roseto, whose car allowance is $350 a month. "Will it affect their jobs? Probably not."

Horne said the allowances have proved their worth by keeping turnover among his senior managers at "virtually zero." Without the allowances, he said, the city could lose top talent.

"Our taxpayers want the city to have competent employees, and to know they're well led," Horne said. "I feel like we're getting every penny of work the city is paying for."

Times staff writers Keyonna Summers, Lorri Helfand and Mike Brassfield contributed to this report. Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

C

Clearwater$91,800
Largo$26,000
Dunedin$25,000
Tarpon Springs$18,000
Oldsmar $3,600
Safety Harbor$3,600
ar allowance costs per year

Clearwater$91,800
Largo$26,000
Dunedin$25,000
Tarpon Springs$18,000
Oldsmar $3,600
Safety Harbor$3,600

Visit links.tampabay.com to view the full list of Clearwater's car allowances.

Amid cuts, Clearwater's employee car allowance tops $91,000 a year 08/06/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 6, 2011 2:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Kriseman and Baker cash races continues as campaigns officially reset

    Blogs

    The mayoral campaign, mostly operating in stealth mode during the two weeks of Hurricane Irma's build-up, arrival and recovery, has entered its stretch run, a compressed schedule of ten days before ballots are mailed to tens of thousands of voters in the Sunshine City.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker are emerging from Hurricane Irma mode and getting back into campaign form
  2. Bucs have chance to beat Vikings in their third stadium

    Bucs

    Here's a cool sign that the Bucs are getting up there as an NFL franchise: If Tampa Bay can win Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, it will mark the first time the Bucs have posted road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.

    TIMES ARCHIVES (2012) | Bucs RB Doug Martin runs during Tampa Bay's 36-17 win at the Vikings in 2012, in what was then called Mall of America Field. If Tampa Bay wins Sunday, it will mark the first time they have road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.
  3. Memorial for Snooty the manatee, postponed because of Irma, to be held Sunday

    Wildlife

    A public memorial to celebrate the life of 69-year-old Snooty the manatee will be held at the South Florida Museum on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

    Snooty , the world's most celebrated manatee, begs for another slice of apple in his pool in the Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton in 2008. Snooty was 60 then. [Times 2008]
  4. Residents wade through a flooded road after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017. Because of the heavy rains brought by Maria, thousands of people were evacuated from Toa Baja after the municipal government opened the gates of the Rio La Plata Dam. [Associated Press]
  5. NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump comments on national anthem

    Bucs

    SOMERSET, N.J. — The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national …

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]