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Pasco mosquito control employees' proposed raises create a buzz

Over at the Pasco County government center, employees face another year of frozen wages and, now, the prospect of layoffs.

That's a familiar reality for employees of many local governments — but not those at the Pasco County Mosquito Control District.

They may get raises next year. Again.

The 26 workers are eligible for merit-based raises of up to 2.5 percent under the district's proposed $6 million spending plan. Salaries range from $12.30 an hour for technicians to $108,000 a year for the director.

The increases would come on top of the 4 percent raises awarded to most of the district's employees in the current fiscal year.

"My main point is it's a conservative number, and it is based on merit," district director Dennis Moore said of the proposed raises. "It's something to give employees to strive for."

The Odessa-based agency sprays chemicals and bacteria by trucks, boats and aircraft to rid the county of mosquitoes. To pay for those operations, a board of three elected commissioners taxes property owners, this year almost 16 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

District commissioners are considering a 3-cent increase in their tax rate to make up for the 15 percent drop in taxable values. That rate increase would bring in $4.3 million, about $145,000 more than the property tax revenue raised in the current year.

Combine that tax hike with employee cutbacks in other parts of the public sector, and the question becomes: Is now the best time for raises?

Gary Joiner, the commission chairman, does not think so. He was the only commissioner who recommended against including raises in the proposed budget.

Relatively speaking, the proposed raises would not cost a lot of money, altogether costing $34,000 at the most.

But Joiner said giving raises now doesn't sit well with him.

"I couldn't see myself giving anybody anything because of the way the economy is," he said. "I'm not saying they don't deserve something. (But) I just couldn't bring myself to do it."

Commissioner Sandra Applefield said the district has always been careful with its spending over the years. She said she believes that small performance-based raises are warranted, since the district has the money to do it and is proposing only a small increase in the tax rate.

"This is something we can offer now," she said. "I think it's well-placed at this time."

The other commissioner, Matthew Abbott, could not be reached Monday.

Mosquito control commissioners meet the second Monday of every month. The proposed budget is on next month's agenda.

Doing the math

Overall spending by the district is up, from $4.5 million to $6.3 million. That's due to the proposed construction of a nearly $2 million building for chemical storage.

Count its reserve accounts — a nearly $3 million capital projects fund; a $780,000 carry-over balance; and $160,000 for sick and annual leave — and the district is handling nearly $10.2 million.

Moore, the district director, pointed to the history of the mosquito district's property tax rates. In 1975, the district's rate was about 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

That rate has declined significantly over the years. During this decade's property value boom, commissioners reduced the rate each year until the current fiscal year, when it went up to almost 16 cents from 14 cents.

"We've been very good stewards of the public money," he said.

Moore noted that other independent taxing districts, such as the basin boards for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, kept their rates steady through much of this decade — even when the county was enjoying a rise in property values — and did not begin dialing down rates until 2007.

For the upcoming budget year, the water district and its four basin boards covering different parts of Pasco are holding the property tax rates at current levels.

The district, known as Swiftmud, has no money budgeted for raises, said spokeswoman Robyn Felix. Basin boards have volunteer directors.

Swiftmud, which needs Gov. Charlie Crist's budget approval, had proposed raises for the current year, said Felix.

Crist said no.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco mosquito control employees' proposed raises create a buzz 07/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 20, 2009 11:19pm]

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