Suwannee Democrat


February 19, 2014

Update: Raises to be given to some Suwannee County employees

Live Oak —

The Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to give some county employees who are under the direction of the board a raise, with some exceptions. The board voted to make the raises retroactive to the beginning of the fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2013, to be in place until the end of the fiscal year. 

County Administrator Randy Harris said an increase .50 cent per hour was a manageable benchmark. However, what raise each individual employee ultimately receives - either more or less - will be up to each department head, as each department is a “unique situation”, according to Harris. Some employees won’t see a raise, such as new employees or those who will be reclassified soon.

“I was directed to work with department heads on trying to come back with a recommendation, something that might be doable,” Harris said. “I know it’s very difficult, so when I met with department heads, I asked them to start with the premise that we would work within the adopted budgets.”

Harris said 10 years worth of history were pulled on the budgets for regular salaries in each department.

“You can see in some cases, our regular salaries in these departments are either nearly the same levels that they were 10 years ago, and in some cases lower for a number of reasons,” he said.

Harris said the goal was to review each budget and avoid having to use county contingency funds to supplement employee raises. There were departments that were able to find funding within their adopted budgets, however, four were left lacking.

Departments that could not absorb the additional costs for raises were: Suwannee County Fire Rescue (SCFR), which needed $37,149; Suwannee County Extension Office, $8,044; custodial department, $9,980; and building maintenance, $6,631.

If all employees were to work 100 percent of the time and there were no retirements, resignations, terminations, or leave without pay, the county would need $54,565. At partial rate of about 15 pay periods, the amount came to $34,366, Harris said.

Harris explained that transfers, retirement, resignations, terminations, leave without pay and unfilled vacancies affect the end-of-year budget totals.

“It’s important to note the adopted salary budgets will always differ from year-end actual numbers,” Harris stated.

Harris recently had an employee transfer from his staff and doesn’t plan on filling the vacancy, which he said will save the county approximately $21,000.

Harris provided the board with an example, subtracting $21,000 from the $34,366 (partial amount) needed, which leaves the county with a need of $13,366.

“I can’t really calculate this, but that $13,000, if we were to consider vacancies, partial year vacancies, terminations, leaves of absence without pay, things of that nature, it’s entirely possible that the $13,000 (need) will go away,” Harris said. “But, we can’t budget that way.”

“Have you got any ideas on where to garner that $13,366 from?” Commissioner Wesley Wainwright asked.

Harris said SCFR had the greatest need and he and Public Safety Director James Sommers discussed ways to obtain the funds needed.

“We talked back during the budget workshops about fire rescue taking on non-emergency medical transport, a very significant revenue generator. Only recently have we considered doing that again on a smaller scale,” Harris said. “He can ease into that business with the equipment and the personnel that we have and begin generating revenue now.”

Sommers told the board with a new medical truck coming, it could free one up that is currently in use that could be utilized for non-emergency medical transport. Sommers said he intends to use current part-time employees without benefit packages.

(Read more on this in a future edition of the Suwannee Democrat).

In addition to the new medical service, Harris said there is funding set aside for housing at the McAlpin Fire Station that could be used at this time.

Currently, plans are in place to construct new headquarters at the McAlpin Fire Station, which was once deemed uninhabitable due to mold. Sommers has $100,000 budgeted for the project.

Wainwright then asked Sommers if they could use the funds, approximately $50,000 of the fire rescue portion, to budget for raises.

“I’m willing to give up the $50,000 if I can start the transport plan because I know I can replenish that revenue within this year,” Sommers said. “If I’ve got that resource to replenish that budget to continue on our process (of constructing McAplin Fire Station headquarters), I’m fine with that.”

Suwannee River Regional Library staff - which has branches in Suwannee, Hamilton and Madison counties- fall under the direction of Suwannee County commissioners. Library staff in Hamilton County could not receive a raise prior to this decision since Suwannee commissioners have jurisdiction. Library staff raises are funded by state grants and will not impact county budgets.

“I’ve been on this board for six years, this will make a grand total of .75 cents we’ve given in raises since I’ve been here,” Wainwright said.

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