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In spirit of holiday cheer, Pasco workers get Friday off

NEW PORT RICHEY — Commissioner Henry Wilson wanted to give county employees an early Christmas present.

So he piggybacked on a decision by Gov. Rick Scott and suggested giving workers a paid day off on Friday. County workers already will get a vacation day Monday, so many would have a four-day weekend. His proposal passed on a 4-1 vote.

"They haven't had a raise in four years," he said. "This will give them one more day to spend with their families."

Last week, Scott issued an executive order closing all state government offices Friday and giving employees a paid vacation day. Wilson brought up the idea unexpectedly during a portion of Tuesday's commission meeting reserved for miscellaneous matters.

"I think it would be a very generous thing to do," said Commissioner Ted Schrader. "Businesses are shutting down, people are starting to shut down."

But the gesture isn't cheap. The county could spend just shy of $300,000 in extra overtime for critical personnel who must work Friday. Firefighters ($143,000), EMS workers ($73,000) and utilities staffers ($71,000) make up the bulk of that cost.

Only the EMS overtime would come from reserves for the county's general fund, which pays for high-profile services such as the Sheriff's Office, parks and libraries. The county utilities department is funded through customers' bills, and fire services are paid for with a separate property tax charged to homes in unincorporated Pasco.

That price tag concerned Commissioner Jack Mariano, who cast the lone vote against the day off. He acknowledged it's a "great gesture," but said he would have preferred if the holiday were planned and not awarded at the last minute.

Mariano also noted that the county collected roughly $430,000 in new parking and youth sports fees at many county parks this year. That's just a little more than the cost of the extra vacation day. Eliminating the fees, he said, "would benefit all the residents in the county." (Other commissioners noted that much of the extra overtime isn't paid for with general fund property taxes and couldn't be used to offset the parks fees.)

The move only affects departments, such as permitting and parks, that fall under County Administrator John Gallagher. It's up to each of the elected constitutional officers to decide whether their operations stay open Friday.

Clerk of Courts Paula O'Neil said her office would remain open with a skeleton staff. There are several court hearings scheduled for Friday, and it will also give people a last-minute opportunity to pay fines or handle other court business. Staffers who do work will be given a day off the following Friday, just before New Year's.

Detention and law enforcement staffers under Sheriff Chris Nocco won't be affected. Agency spokesman Kevin Doll said there are no plans to give the day off to non-essential personnel, who can typically leave a few hours early on long holiday weekends.

Several offices will be closed Friday, including the Property Appraiser's office, the Supervisor of Elections office and the Tax Collector's office, which issues driver licenses and auto tags.

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In other news Tuesday

Pasco commissioners heard an update on two east Pasco road projects. Two resurfacing projects are nearing completion on Clinton Avenue heading east from Prospect Road. A final phase, which would expand the road to four lanes from Fort King Road to U.S. 301, will start construction next summer. The county is still trying to acquire some land for that expansion, said County Engineer Jim Widman. The project is expected to cost $22.3 million. Officials plan to erect signs telling drivers when construction should begin.

Widman also said the widening of State Road 54 to six lanes east of Interstate 75 in Wesley Chapel is almost finished. He said crews will stop work Friday because of state holiday rules. When they get back to work after Jan. 1, he said, "we'll be able to wrap it up in just days."

In spirit of holiday cheer, Pasco workers get Friday off 12/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 8:12pm]

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