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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City Manager Puts 3% on the table
Constitutional Officers and County Manager weigh in

Tonight, Lake City’s City Manager, Wendell Johnson, presents his 3% plan to the City Council. City Manager Johnson is proposing that the City give only those city workers in the Florida Retirement System a 3% raise to make up for the state imposed mandatory 3% employee contribution, which went into effect July 1st. The City has three other employee pension plans. The Observer spoke with other county officials and constitutional officers for their ideas on making up the newly mandated 3%  employee contribution.

Sheriff Mark Hunter

Sheriff Mark Hunter's proposed budget is $11,474,284, of which $9,010,181 of that represents salaries. For the Sheriff to make up the 3% he would have to find approximately $270,000 in his budget to move around or come back to the County Commission and ask for an increase.

Observer:  You're aware that City Manager Johnson is requesting that the City Council consider giving city employees in the Florida Retirement System a 3% raise. Isn't it kind of hard to ask for any kind of raise, now?

Sheriff Hunter:  There's not going to be any raise. I was given that guidance way up front. If you recall, by statute, I have to turn in my budget by June 1, which I did. I didn't ask for any additional funding, because they [the County] told me it's not there.

Sheriff Hunter continued:  If I could find some kind of savings in the Sheriff's Office, so that I could take care of that, I would. The big picture is we are doing everything we can to keep costs down, while expenses such as fuel and health insurance have risen. Our rates for health insurance went up 44%.

Historically, every year Constitutional Officers give back money to the County. In many years this has been hundreds of thousands of dollars. Last year the Sheriff gave back almost $300,000.

Observer:  Do you plan on returning any money to the County this year?

Sheriff Hunter:  I don't know yet. It's too early to tell. I think the Sheriff's office has done its part in cutting the budget. We've had budget cuts two years running.

Observer:  Could you act on your own and give your people the 3%?

Sheriff Hunter:  Anything that has to do with an increase in salary in the Sheriff's office has to be approved by the County Commission.

Observer:  Thank you.

County Manager Dale Williams

Longtime County Manager Dale Williams spent a few moments with your reporter last week. Recently, Board Chairman Jody DuPree decided to have a series of budget workshops. The 3% was never brought up.

Observer:  I'm sure by now you've heard about City Manager Johnson's 3% proposal.

County Manager Williams:  Yes, I've heard about it from quite a few people.

Observer:  Regarding the 3% raise -- the word on the street is that Chairman DuPree is against it.

County Manager Williams:  From what I've heard, the Board won't even talk about it until budget. I don't expect any Commissioner to bring it up until next year's budget is discussed. What I'm hearing these commissioners say is, "I don't know if I'm for it -- I don't know if I'm against." They're saying, "I think we should wait to see where we are financially before we make a decision."

County Manager Williams concluded, "If somebody should tell me they're going to place it on the agenda, I will remember to call you. A couple of them just came back from the FAC and they say it was a major topic of discussion down there."

Tax Collector Ronnie Brannon

Observer:  Thank you for returning my call. I'm sure by now you've heard about City Manager Johnson's 3% proposal. You are in charge of your payroll -- what are you going to do?

Tax Collector Brannon:  As a rule of thumb, we generally follow the Board of County Commissioners. Whenever they would give raises in the past, we would follow suit, just to keep the peace with everybody.

Tax Collector Brannon continued:  I am starting to put my budget together now. It's due August 1 at the Department of Revenue. I don't plan to put anything in there for a raise. If the County decides, I've got to decide whether to follow or not. I think the public is very much against a raise. They just don't feel it's warranted in these times.

Observer:  Can I quote you on that?

Tax Collector Brannon:  Sure -- that's how the public feels. That's what I think the public feels. I also feel my employees need a raise. We've taken on drivers licenses and we're doing as much work as we ever did, plus, a little more. We've had to learn new laws. As far as my budget goes, I could give 3% raises without a big impact. I gave back close to $400,000 last year in revenues that I earned that I didn't spend.

Observer:  A raise is a recurring expense.

Tax Collector Brannon:  Of course a raise is reoccurring, I understand that. I think I could absorb a raise without increasing any of my revenue. What I don't spend I give back to the County Commission and the other taxing authorities. If I cut something on my end, it's just more money I give back to them.

Observer:  Would you say that your employees deserve a raise regardless of whatever the state did?

Tax Collector Brannon concluded, "Certainly -- I'm not putting a raise in my budget. The people that approve my budget, they haven't had a raise in five years."

Updated 08:30 am: The 3% that City Manager Johnson is proposing represents only the last quarter of this year. This money has already been budgeted for those employees.

Tomorrow: Property appraiser Doyle Crews, Clerk of the Courts and the School Board weigh in. 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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