BROOKSVILLE — The union representing about 400 Hernando County government workers brought a message to the bargaining table this week: The time has come to make up for lost wages, and an across-the-board 6 percent increase should do it.
"We feel the workers have been suffering long enough and should be given at least some economic relief," said John Sholtes, business agent for Teamsters Local 79.
Sholtes explained the math behind the proposal during a session with the county's bargaining team.
Workers in the bargaining unit haven't received any kind of raise in six years. Typical cost-of-living increases range from 3 percent to 5 percent in better budget times, so salaries are at least 18 percent below what they should be, Sholtes said.
"Our proposal credits a modest 1 percent of lost wages per year," he said.
The union is also asking the county to absorb an expected increase in medical insurance premiums. The county's contribution for each plan — currently $340, $400 and $450 — would rise to $360, $430 and $480.
Russ Wetherington, chief negotiator for the county administration, declined to comment on the specifics of the proposal. He will present the information to county Administrator Len Sossamon and the County Commission.
Although the economy is on the rebound from the Great Recession, wage increases are going to be a tall order, said commission Chairman Dave Russell.
The current estimated deficit for the county's 2013-14 budget is about $9 million, largely because of static taxable property values, Russell said. To bridge that gap, he said, the board will likely have to increase property tax rates.
"The reality is a lot of the private sector can relate" to half a dozen years of static wages, Russell said. "We haven't quite turned the corner."
The deadline for the county staff to complete a tentative balanced budget is July 15. The commission will get a budget update at its July 23 meeting.
County workers represented by the Teamsters are not the only ones with a raise in mind.
The $41.07 million budget that Sheriff Al Nienhuis submitted last month for 2013-14 includes $700,000 for raises for his agency's 500-plus employees. Instead of an across-the-board raise, Nienhuis plans a tiered approach to reward employees based on their experience and time on the job. The increases would range from 2 percent to 6 percent and take effect on each employee's anniversary date.
The union representing about 235 firefighters for Hernando County Fire Rescue and Spring Hill Fire Rescue has yet to present a financial proposal, said Robert Rae, president of Hernando County Professional Firefighters Local 3760.
"We understand reality," Rae said. "We know if we have a (budget) shortfall, there's probably not going to be money for cost-of-living raises."
Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.