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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

City Manager's plan gives half of city employees 3%.
Johnson calls it a subsidy in 3-2 squeaker – or was it?

On June 20th, with two City Council members absent, City Manager Wendell Johnson tabled his 3% pay raise proposal until last night. Digging in, City Manager Johnson refused to call his plan a pay raise and labeled it a subsidy, claiming that the media didn't understand him. Lake City has approximately two hundred and thirty employees. One hundred and four are getting the raise.

As usual, Lake City Mayor Stephen Witt ran a respectful and courteous meeting, giving anyone who wished to speak the opportunity to do so.

After accusing the news media of not understanding him, CM Johnson began his explanation to the City Council:

I believe that our employees would benefit from a continuation of this budget year for the next three months to maintain their current status both in pay and having the city absorb the cost of their contribution to the FRS at 3% which started July 1st.

On June 20th, in a memo to the City Council, CM Johnson explained the new state statute requiring Florida Retirement System (FRS) contributions by employees this way:

"State Statute prohibits the City from making a direct contribution to the FRS for the employee/elected official component."

Many people believe that the intent of the state statute is clear. CM Johnson left this language out of his June 27th memo to the City Council.

CM Johnson's June 27th memo to the City Council recommends the following action:

Approve a 3% increase in compensation levels to all City FRS enrolled employees and elected officials...

Last night, CM Johnson told the City Council:

What I am asking the Council to do is just to fund a subsidy. I am not asking to give pay raises to these hundred and four employees and of course there are two council members who are involved with this. I'm asking for a subsidy for the next 90 days until our budget year ends and then October 1st this subsidy will be discontinued.

CM Johnson continued: It's not a pay raise. It's not meant to separate out any group of employees. Unfortunately for the City we have four categories of retirement plans. The hundred and four employees are in the lower income range and average $27,000 annually. (Before benefits, which adds another 30% to the compensation - Ed)

City Councilwoman Moses weighs in

Councilwoman Moses asked, "Just so I understand this. All we are doing really is we promised our employees a certain amount. So the state is making them pay 3%. So we're just shoring up what we promised to give em until the end of the budget year and then it's a whole new ball game?

CM Johnson responded, "Correct. I don't think it was a promise... I don't think at the beginning of the budget year employees expected that they were going to be requested to fund a state-mandated contribution to their retirement plan."

CM Johnson continued, "I think that's appropriate. I think that's fair. Each employee should contribute to their retirement plan and be thankful we have a job. I don't think we have any employees that feel otherwise. This is only for three months."

The folks in Tallahassee were confused

City Manager Johnson said that he thought both the Governor and the Legislature didn't realize that cities began their budget year on October 1 and that the fiscal years of the state and the city did not coincide.

Councilman George Ward was not confused

Mr. Ward pointed out that the Feds lowered the employee contribution to Social Security 2% on January 1st. He said, "That doesn't coincide with our fiscal year. It doesn't coincide with the state's fiscal year. I don't see the rationale because it doesn't coincide with our fiscal year."

Mr. Ward said about the raise, "We're going to give it to them for three months and then take it back from them starting in September. I just don't see any reason for that."

Mr. Ward continued, "I've heard from business people throughout the City. The City would save $37,000 by not funding it for the remainder of this year. That's 37,000 we can roll over into next year's funds. I think we should leave it just as it is and let it start now."

Councilman Jefferson was sympathetic – The Governor did it

Mr. Jefferson: The city employees have not had a pay raise in the past three years. State employees have not had a raise in the past five years. 3% might not seem like a lot, but to some people that might mean a child not going to daycare. 3% has no negative impact on the delivery of services to our customers. I think it's a good faith effort on behalf of the city to be compassionate and be considerate to our employees. The City did not create this -- the Governor and the Legislature did.

Mr. Jefferson concluded, "I'm very sympathetic with our employees when it comes to the salaries and monies that they are taking home to their families. State employees on the other hand got nothing."

Mayor Witt knew CM Johnson was proposing a pay raise

Mayor Witt was clear, "I have mixed feelings about it. As far as I'm concerned I don't want to accept a pay raise at this time."

Mr. Ward added, "I look at it as we are stewards of the taxpayers' money."

Councilman Jake Hill was the decider

On the call of the Clerk Mr. Hill voted "yes" and then explained his vote.

Mr. Hill said, "It's gonna affect me, but I'm not voting yes because I would benefit from it. I'm votin yes because of the other employees that will - that will I guess benefit for the next three months from it. That's the reason I'm votin yes for this."


City Manager Johnson's proposal giving some city employees a 3% raise and then calling it a subsidy was clearly controversial and fully satisfied no one. Even those who received the raise did not think it was fair that over half the City employees received nothing.

The Observer could not find any City employee, or any County employee for that matter, who thought that making a contribution to one's retirement plan was unfair.

Correction: Updated July 7, 2011: Mr. Hills' comments were corrected. City Clerk Audrey Sikes had audio with a more understandable version of Mr. Hill's remarks.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On July 6, 2011, Ron Buchner of Lake City wrote:

Wow, the city council seems to have their heads stuck in the sand.

CM Johnson wants to give a 3% pay raise, then realizes he can't call it a raise and only give it to 104 people, so decides to call it a subsidy. He was for it before he was against it. And the City Manager thinks Tallahassee is confused?

Councilwoman Moses thinks the city promised a certain take home pay to employees rather than a gross pay.

Councilman Ward had it exactly right, they are supposed to be good stewards of the taxpayers money. And if you stuck to CM Johnson's theory, they should have taken back 2% in Jan. to make up for the Fed's decrease in payroll tax.

Councilman Jefferson thinks employees deserve a raise even though CM Johnson says it is not a raise, but a subsidy that will end in 90 days.

Mayor Witt certainly knows it is a raise.

Councilman Hill is totally confused. He doesn't know if he voted for or against it. Someone please shake him and wake him up.

Business as usual,
Ron Buchner


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