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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hosp Authority

Berry Announces $1,000 County Bonuses at Lake Shore Hosp Authority's Faux Budget Wk. Shop

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night at the Lake Shore Hospital Authority proved relatively uneventful. For the first time since sometime before 2008 the Authority didn't hold a budget workshop. However, Manager Berry attempted a budget presentation. The big news of the evening was Authority Manager Berry's announcement that the County Commission will be giving its employees $1,000 in either a one-time bonus or a raise and that the City is "not givin' anything."

At the meeting your reporter discovered that the agenda included an item under "New Business" titled "Proposed Budget."

This is the first time since 2006, when the Observer began covering the Authority, that there was not a budget work shop with the Authority's auditor – financial advisor – and accountant (all one person), Richard Powell, on hand to explain the budget and answer questions from Governor Scott's Board.

Manager Berry Attempted to Explain the Budget


Manager Berry shortly after being asked for a copy of the budget.

As the budget discussion got underway, your reporter asked for a copy of the budget so that he could follow along. Mr. Berry would not provide one and none of the Governor's appointees volunteered theirs or asked that the public be provided with one so they could follow along.

Manager Berry read some numbers and then spoke about pay raises for the Authority's two member staff.

"I did not include any pay raises for anybody. I think that's a board thing that the board needs to decide what they wanna do on that -- because I think for me to propose it would be a conflict of interest if I'm an employee," he said.

There was a letter from Richard Powell in the Board's agenda material. Its contents were not revealed.

Board member Tim Murphy asked if any action was required of the Board.

"The County is giving a $1,000 pay increase"

Mr. Berry answered, "No, not really. If you want to leave the budget the way it is with no pay increases -- that's fine. The County is givin' a $1,000 pay increase and I was told by the City Manager they're not givin' anything."

Board member Janet Creel asked Mr. Berry, "Which is better, a bonus or a raise?"

Mr. Berry explained that the County normally gives a one-time bonus. "The County said they're gonna give a thousand dollars pay increase. I'm not sure how they gonna do it, whether it's a bonus or what and I don't think they even know at this point."

Recent Scott appointee, Board member Ron Foreman inquired regarding having the salary discussions in executive session.

Mr. Berry said, "Everything here is in public meetings. Unfortunately, it's not like the bank where we can close the door."

Ms. Creel asked, "What did we do last year?"

Mr. Berry said the employees received 5%, but wasn't sure when the last raise before that was.

None of the Board members appeared to be upset that Mr. Berry, who runs the Authority, wasn't prepared with the information.

The Authority's employees health insurance is now included in their salary. The Authority also pays the taxes on the employee income purportedly used to buy health insurance. It appeared that there wasn't any paperwork showing how much it was costing Columbia County taxpayers for the health insurance of the three Hospital Authority employees. The employees do not have to show the Authority how much they are spending on their insurance in order to collect the full amount, which may be over $7,000.

Mr. Berry said that even with the Authority paying for the employee insurance the employees are losing money paying for their own health insurance. It was "actually, a net loss," he said.

Mr. Berry did not elaborate and the Governor's Board did not ask.

Ms. Creel asked how the budget would be affected with different percentages of raises.

Mr. Berry said [as spoken], "You've got a graft on the back page of your budget. I was asked -- one of the directors asked me to do a graft."

Ms. Creel asked, "What's the difference to the employee between a bonus and a raise in salary?"

There are long-term benefits for employees receiving raises, rather than bonuses, which is why employers prefer giving bonuses and why the government limits the ways in which bonuses can be given.

Mr. Berry answered Ms. Creel, "I don't see any difference."

Sometime between now and the first budget hearing in September the board will decide whether or not to give Mr. Berry and the two gals in the office a raise.

According to Mr. Berry, the Board can make the final decision at the hearing.

Epilogue

Earlier today your reporter spoke with the County's HR Director, Lisa Roberts. He asked if she knew of any pay raises on the table for County employees.

Ms. Roberts responded, "If there are, nobody told me about it."

Friday's budget workshop may answer the question of County employee raises.

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