PORT RICHEY — The City Council pulled off a rare feat in the age of ever-tightening government budgets: It gave its employees a raise.
At a meeting Tuesday night, the council unanimously approved a 1 percent raise for all employees. The council also approved a one-time bonus of $250 to each of the city's 53 full-time employees, and a $125 bonus for nine part-timers.
"You have been serving the city very well and you have hung with us through tough times," council member Terry Rowe told about a dozen employees who attended the hearing.
The council praised workers for weathering the city's financial woes over the past few years. Last year the city gave employees a one-time bonus worth 1.5 percent of their salaries, but this is their first raise since 2009.
The raise and one-time stipend will cost the city $38,919, which the city will cover using money it saved this year on employee medical insurance and increased revenues from a communications services tax, City Manager Tom O'Neill told the council.
City Council members asked finance officials to include a 1 percent raise for employees in this year's budget after an audit found Port Richey to be improving after years of being in a state of financial emergency.
The audit of the 2010-11 fiscal year showed the city's net assets increased 3.1 percent to $588,764 and the city collected $3 million in general revenue while spending about $2.4 million. The trend continued for the first six months of last fiscal year, during which the city pulled in $2.5 million, which is $229,000 more than projected. It spent $2.2 million, $61,000 less than projected during that time.
In addition, the city's water and sewer fund had a positive balance of $382,000 in the first half of last year, the city's accountant Pete Schatzel reported to council in June.
Prior to approval of this year's raise, council members batted around two other options for employee pay, including just a 1 percent raise without the stipend at a cost of $22,074, or a one-time $500 payout for full-time employees and $250 for part-time workers with no raise which would cost $31,413.
Vice Mayor Bill Colombo said he would have preferred the $500 payout option because workers earning lower wages would get more than they would from a 1 percent increase.
"A stipend approach is basically going to help those folks at the bottom end more than a percentage approach," he said.
A handful of employees told the council that their desire in the long-term is to retire with the city, so a 1 percent bump would mean more security over the long haul than a one-time payout.
"We are people who want to retire here, who've been here several years. We consider ourselves good employees, we work hard. We love the city," said employee Christopher Hughes.
Such expressions struck a chord with Mayor Eloise Taylor. She said she initially believed that the one-time payout of $500 would provide the most benefit.
"But you've got a different perspective and it's a perspective of working together for the long run and how refreshing is that? I just commend you for that attitude and perspective," Taylor told the crowd of employees.