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Tarpon commission says yes to raises for city staff

The City Commission on Tuesday unanimously endorsed City Manager Ellen Posivach's plan to raise the pay of city executives and workers.

They also planned to send a mailing to all city residents that would explain the increases, which they called badly needed.

"Some people in the community feel it was a very bold step for us to take," Commissioner Beverley Billiris said.

Raises will range from 6 percent to 55 percent over two years, based on a salary study. Posivach and all city department heads will receive raises of 19 percent or more _ higher raises than many front-line city employees such as the cement finishers and firefighters originally cited to illustrate the need for raises.

Workers with more experience generally receive higher raises.

The raises will come in two steps: half in October, half a year later. After the second increase, the city will be spending $1.5-million more per year on salaries than it does now.

The plan increases the salary budget more than twice as fast over the next two years as the old system would have.

The pay plan will raise Posivach's annual salary by nearly $16,000 to $94,875 by Oct. 1, 2000. She has worked for the city since January.

That will put her well above Oldsmar's Bruce Haddock, who earns $78,423, and Safety Harbor's Steven J. Wylie, who makes $74,464. Posivach's pay will be comparable to Dunedin's John Lawrence, who earns $98,000 managing that city of 35,000. Tarpon Springs has about 20,000 residents.

The pay plan also will increase city commissioners' part-time pay by $2,000 to $8,000 and bump the mayor's part-time pay up $1,000 to $13,000.

Commissioners said they had received many negative phone calls from residents about the pay plan, but they attributed those to a Sunday Times article that several of them criticized. They said some callers favored the raises.

The Times article was accurate, except for one point: Due to a math error, it understated the percentage increase city commissioners will get over two years. The correct percentage is 33 percent.

Posivach has said the high raises for department heads versus low ones for some front-line workers are not something she intended. That is just the way the numbers fell based on a salary study that determined new pay ranges for each position by averaging the pay ranges in Safety Harbor, Pinellas Park, the average small Florida city and the average large Florida city.

Tuesday, Posivach said, "If we're to provide a reduced tax rate and an increase in services, we've got to be able to attract and keep competent employees at all levels of the organization."

Mayor Frank DiDonato had said Friday that Posivach could implement her pay plan on her own. But the commission voted on the plan Tuesday. Posivach decided to place it on the agenda, he said.

"We put it out front," DiDonato said. "We didn't have to approve that. She just decided in fairness it would come forth."

Posivach distributed a fact sheet about her plan to the commissioners Tuesday that notes that the city's employee turnover rate is 24 percent, which she said is double the national average. She attributes much of the trend to low pay.

She maintains that the city also will save money by leaving more than a dozen vacant positions unfilled.