Franklin County commissioners Tuesday morning approved a $500 across-the-board bonus for all county employees for the upcoming fiscal year, and sweetened the offer with individual pay raises for two directors and two employees.
The board also offered raises for four other employees of the finance department, but Clerk of Courts Marcia Johnson said Tuesday afternoon that she would decline those salary hikes.
Early in the meeting, Mosquito Control Director DeWitt Polous got the ball rolling in his report, when he asked about a $1,000 raise for employee Scott Tucker.
Commissioner Pinki Jackel then spoke out in favor of granting a $500 bonus to each of the county’s roughly 163 employees, at a cost of about $90,000. She also requested in her motion a $2,500 increase for Parks and Recreation Director Nikki Millender, and a $1,000 pay hike for Virginia Messer, the road department secretary.
Commissioner William Massey seconded the motion, which did not include Tucker because his pay increase might come out of mosquito control’s existing budget forecast for next year, which the board reviewed at its workshop last month. Polous said the pay hike would not cost the county any additional money, since it could be taken out of a state grant that rose by $2,008 for next year, and is expected to rise in future years as larger counties turn back surpluses for divvying up among smaller ones.
Polous said Tucker, who oversees inmate crews for about seven months out of the year, is not eligible for incentive money that road department employees can get for working with inmate crews. “He’s a really excellent employee,” said Polous. “I can’t brag on Scott enough. When I was out sick, he stepped right in and he picked up the mantle and ran with it. I didn’t have to worry about anything.”
Jackel’s three-part motion was quickly challenged by Commissioner Noah Lockley, who has long favored employee raises, even in tight budget years when his suggestion has not met with support from his fellow commissioners.
“I’ve got a problem; we’re picking and choosing,” he said. “I’m for people getting a raise (but) we’re just picking and choosing certain people. That makes trouble in the workforce.”
Commissioner Smokey Parrish agreed, noting Veterans Service Officer William Scott asked for raises during last month’s budget workshop. “I think we’re opening up a can of worms here,” Parrish said. “I think we’re going to have more people come back the next meeting and the meeting after that. Where does it stop if everybody comes to us individually?
“I don’t have a problem with the $500,” he said. “I do have an issue with picking and choosing on the other side of it though. I’m not opposed to what we’re doing for the overall employees.”
Jackel said the cost of the increases fits into the proposed millage rate, since the 2014-15 budget has a projected $181,000 surplus. “These numbers do not exceed what the surplus was at the TRIM (Truth in Millage) notice rate that was sent out,” she said.
Lockley said the county has been working with Tallahassee labor attorney Lucy Turner to implement a plan that creates order in setting salaries, and includes a provision to grant regular cost-of-living increases each year.
“We’re going through the thing with this lawyer. If we give certain people raises, we might as well throw that out the door,” he said. “Certain people getting raises is going to cause problems in the workforce. I want to be fair to everybody.”
Millender came forward to speak, and said that at Turner’s last presentation to the county commission, a motion was made to increase her pay as well as that of Messer and a third employee, who already has been given his.
“I was kind of put off to wait for Lucy (Turner),” said Millender. “I understand what you’re saying, commissioner, but it’s been talked about several times. Me and Virginia have been left out here kind of lingering.”
Millender said Solid Waste Director Fonda Davis had granted a $1,500 increase to his secretary, and $2,000 increases to two others in his department. She said that while Road Department Director Howard Nabors was given a $5,000 increase when he assumed the top job, she received only an additional $2,500 when she was named to head parks and recreation.
“These are more or less unresolved issues that we said we’d take up,” said Jackel, whose motion passed 3-2, with Parrish and Lockley dissenting. Sanders cast the tie-breaking vote, and said she did so because the two individual raises were previously promised. “We did tell Nikki we would give her a raise,” she said.
Lockley followed up with a motion of his own, to give $1,500 raises to four employees of the finance department, to County Planner Alan Pierce and to Michael Moron, Johnson’s administrative assistant and secretary to the board of county commissioners,
Asked by Sanders during the earlier discussion about pay hikes to her employees, Johnson said “I’d love to see all my finance department get $2,500 more, but I did what the board said and cut my budget. I don’t have the money there to do it. I’d like to see what Lucy Turner suggested, a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) built into the budget year after year.”
Jackel agreed with the COLA, but said that during times of flat or declining property values, it would mean taxes would have to go up every year. “I think we’re looking at a time in the near future when we can do that,” she said.
Lockley’s motion passed unanimously, but later in the afternoon, Johnson said she would decline the offer for the finance department employees, but retain it for Moron, who as secretary to the board of county commissioners, has been instrumental in making sweeping changes to digitize the process and make it virtually paperless.
In a written statement, she said she recognized that members of her staff who are funded by the county commission have continually taken on additional tasks. “For examples, when the tourist development tax was enacted and when the county received the BP oil spill monies, my staff’s workload on paying those bills increased dramatically,” Johnson said. “At my direction, my office staff has found ways to allow much more public access to the board’s minutes, budget, and other records, and they have gone above and beyond to provide transparency in my office.
“At the commission’s meeting August 19, when two other county staff received raises, I believe that commissioners recognized the professional accomplishments of my deputy clerk to the board in providing them paperless, and more efficient records, and moved to give raises to my staff funded by them. I was unaware this action was to occur,” she said.
“Considering the current economic environment, I asked myself about the wisdom of increasing just the few of my staff funded by the commission while the remainder of my staff, as well as other constitutional officers’ staff and county department employees, go without any increase,” Johnson said. “I’ve decided it’s preferable at this time that I decline the increases other than that of my deputy clerk who serves as secretary to the board. If, or when, the board receives any future BP Oil/Restore Act funding, or should the Tourist Development Tax be increased and there are additional financial reporting responsibilities, I may pursue increases for my finance staff.”
When the raises go into effect Oct. 1, Messer’s annual salary will rise to $28,152, Millender’s to $37,000, Moron’s to $41,300, and Pierce’s to $64,800.