ZEPHYRHILLS — City employees are going to get a little boost in their paycheck through the end of this fiscal year — though the money will be spent before they even see it.
City Council voted unanimously Monday night to give employees a 2.75 percent raise to help offset the contribution that government employees must start making to the Florida Retirement System. The move came at the urging of City Manager Steve Spina and department heads.
When the state's new budget year starts July 1, all members of the pension system — including 180 Zephyrhills employees — will be required to contribute 3 percent of their income to the pension system. Up until now, Zephyrhills and other government agencies picked up the tab for those contributions.
No longer required to make those contributions, Zephyrhills will save $47,193 by the end of its budget year, Sept. 30. Council members decided to put that money toward the temporary raises, which also run through Sept. 30.
Spina noted that city employees have not received a raise in three years, as declining property values starved city coffers.
"I didn't want to see them take a cut in pay especially since they haven't had an increase in so long," council member Charlie Proctor said Tuesday. "They're hard workers."
Will the raise continue after Sept. 30? That will be up to the council to decide during its budget discussions this summer. But finding the money could be difficult: The city is already facing a projected shortfall of $800,000 to $1 million next year.
"It would be nice (to keep the salary increase) because I don't see raises in the future," Proctor said. "Heck, I would like to see them get a well-deserved raise but I don't see the writing on the wall."
Refunds coming on utility deposits
In other news, the Zephyrhills council voted unanimously to refund utility deposits for people who became customers before Aug. 11, 2008.
The refunds have been the subject of debate for several months, since a resident urged the council to provide refunds as was promised before a policy change nearly three years ago.
Utility deposits will be refunded to residential customers who meet the following guidelines:
• They must have had uninterrupted service for at least 24 continuous billing cycles.
• They haven't had any checks returned for insufficient funds or other reasons for at least 12 months.
• They didn't have any service shut-offs due to non-payment for at least 12 months.
• They didn't have any late fees for at least 12 consecutive months.
Utility Department staff will determine residents' eligibility and will mail refund checks to customers in the coming months, Spina said.
As per the current policy, customers who don't meet the requirements will have their deposit applied to their final bill, and any unused balance will be refunded.