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Council protests Pinellas Park salary raises

(ran South, West editions)

Angered over raises that increased salaries as much as 38 percent in one case, City Council members have placed a 5 percent cap on pay raises.

"I've gotten some direction that raises should not be in excess of 5 percent," Interim City Manager Jerry Mudd said Friday. "I received direction from the City Council."

In a later phone conversation, Mudd added, "The mayor was furious ... after I gave that second raise to Mike Gustafson."

Council members told Mudd that in the future, he needs to follow a personnel rule that holds raises at 5 percent unless an employee is promoted. In that case, the raise could be more if the base salary of the new job is higher than the employee's old salary plus 5 percent. Thus, those who are being promoted would receive at least the base salary of the new position.

"In effect, there's a 5 percent cap on raises except for promotional situations because that's the only way you're going to get a raise here now," Mudd said.

Annual raises were already limited to 4 percent.

Mudd said he knew his decision to hand out about $80,000 in raises that increased salaries as much as 38 percent would be unpopular. However, he does not regret his actions.

There were solid business reasons for handing out the raises, most of which went to management level people, Mudd said. Those reasons still exist.

He said some employees were severely underpaid.

Take the example of Mike Gustafson.

Mudd audited Gustafson's job as assistant community development administrator/building development director. The person who holds that job helps businesses that are building or renovating facilities within Pinellas Park or those that are moving into the area.

Mudd's audit concluded the job's pay was less than market value, so he gave Gustafson a 15 percent raise. His salary climbed from $46,030 to $52,935. That's a $6,905 increase a year.

In Mudd's view, Gustafson needed to get that raise so his salary would mirror those of officials in similar positions in similar towns.

The acting city manager says such salaries should be brought up to par so that good people do not leave the city. Having them leave would cost money in time and training.

It would also cost because customers would not be getting the best service from the city. That could mean fewer businesses would move into Pinellas Park and the city could lose money.

Some received raises because of promotions.

Building development supervisor Patrick Murphy got a 38 percent raise when he was promoted. He went from pay of $29,120 to $40,144.

He's not the only one who got a big raise with a promotion.

Gustafson again is an example.

After he received the first 15 percent raise, he was promoted. His salary again jumped 15 percent. This time it went to about $60,880. That's a raise of nearly $8,000 a year.

Under the cap, Gustafson's raise with the promotion would have been limited to 5 percent of his previous salary, or $2,647. That would have brought his salary to $55,582.

Even that salary would have been more than Paulette Cohen was making when she resigned from the position earlier this year. She was earning about $54,080 a year.

But Mudd said it's unfair simply to look at the approximately $80,000 given to 13 employees.

The city had about $92,000 set aside for raises, he said. By giving out raises the way he did, Mudd said he came in about $12,000 under budget and saved the city money.

"I thought that was pertinent," Mudd said.