TAMPA — Hillsborough commissioners have agreed to accept the same hit in the paycheck that they impose on other county employees this year — no more, no less.
That could mean a freeze to commissioners $91,844 salaries, increased insurance premiums and forced, unpaid days off.
But the unanimous vote Wednesday fell far short of the 10 percent pay cut new Commissioner Kevin Beckner proposed as a way to send a message that the board was taking the sagging economy seriously. He also had proposed forgoing commissioners' $550 monthly car allowance.
Beckner responded a bit like the kid who asked for a solid chocolate bunny in his Easter basket, and got a hollow one.
"I think it's a good first step," he said. "I would have liked to see more. But I think it's a start."
Beckner had floated the notion of commissioners taking a pay cut as a symbolic gesture about a week ago. He said the amounts he suggested totaled about a 16 percent hit, equating roughly to how much the board may have to cut county spending in the next two years due to falling property tax revenue.
But when the topic came up for discussion during a workshop Wednesday, other commissioners quickly steered the debate in a different direction.
Commissioner Mark Sharpe got County Administrator Pat Bean to acknowledge she is expecting to recommend furloughs for rank-and-file employees next year. She said employees have told her they would prefer them to pay cuts and to lessen the need for layoffs.
Sharpe said commissioners should agree to accept furloughs as well. It makes the cut to commissioners' salaries less arbitrary, he said.
"I think the simple formula is a shared formula," Sharpe said. "It's a symbolic cut but it's substantive."
Other commissioners were quick to applaud Sharpe's idea.
"I was going to the same place," said Commissioner Al Higginbotham, whose own proposal to freeze board salaries two years ago was dismissed by other board members. "Whatever burden county employees have, we're not exempt from that."
Commissioner Kevin White noted that one of the reasons the economy is ailing is that corporate chief executives took care of themselves without regard to people below them.
"Leadership comes from the top," he said. "I think we owe it to the taxpayers and the employees of Hillsborough County."
Bean has previously said she may have to cut as many as 1,000 county jobs to plug a projected $110 million drop in property tax collections due to falling values.
Each furlough day for county employees equates to about $1.1 million in savings. Bean would not say how many furlough days she plans to recommend.
Bill Varian can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3387.