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ADMINISTRATOR IS GIVEN NEW CONTRACT

Hillsborough County commissioners gave their administrator a vote of confidence Thursday.

Commissioners voted unanimously to extend Mike Merrill's contract by three years, and found a creative wayto boost his pay after giving him fairly stellar marks on an annual evaluation.

The vote came without comment by commissioners. In the numerical scores accompanying their written evaluations, Merrill got just more than a four on a scale of one to five.

Merrill's annual take-home pay will increase from $195,000 to $210,000. But the money will come from the money he now receives in deferred compensation that he would receive upon retirement, so it's a net financial wash for the county.

Currently, Merrill receives $22,000 in annual deferred compensation. That will decrease to $7,350.

Additionally, commissioners agreed to pay his health insurance premium, an amount that comes out to just more than $6,000. They did so after granting newly hired county attorney Chip Fletcher the same benefit.

In other action:

- Commissioners voted unanimously to extend a reduction in permit and construction fees to builders through the end of 2013 as an attempt to spur investment. Commissioners had previously reduced permitting and construction fees by 50 percent from October 2011 though the end of this year. Thursday's vote not only extends the reduction, but increases it to 60 percent. The vote is expected to cost the county $7.2 million in lost revenues, which will come from reserve accounts from its development service operations.

- The board formally signed off on a plan to staff the county's six volunteer fire stations with full-time paid rescue workers, after audits turned up problems at the stations. In each case, volunteers will help supplement the paid workers. The change is projected to cost $5.2 million, which will come from general county reserves.

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