Tempers high at budget meeting

Posted on September 23, 2015 by Deborah Nelson

Santa Rosa commissioners approved a final 2016 budget Tuesday night; but things got tense when two county employees chastised the Board for holding out on County worker raises while Commissioners received one.
“Did you all get raises?” Clerk of Courts employee Joan Malley asked the Board.
Commissioners affirmed they had received raises. Officials noted that pay levels for elected constitutional officers are set by the State of Florida, not locally.
“But the money comes out of our budget,” county employee Debbie Peaden pointed out.
“Can you all not give yours back?” Peaden asked commissioners. “And put more back in the General Fund?”
Commission Chair Don Salter said his raise returned about $500 dollars.
“It might be able to get you one week of groceries,” he remarked.
“Five hundred dollars would get me a month’s worth of groceries,” Peaden noted.
Malley, earlier in the meeting, said people came to work for the county for merit and cost of living increases, benefits and a good job.
“Now there haven’t been raises, except for two little cost of living increases you gave us in the last two years, there have been no merit increases,” she remarked. “The quality of our work didn’t go down. We still deserve those raises. We worked hard for those merit increases.
She said she’s concerned the County may lose employees and get poor performers to replace them because of the salary rates.
“You’re going to get people who are going to sit at their desk and do nothing because there’s nothing to work for,” she told Commissioners.
“We work hard, we get our good evaluations, we do our job, we’re kind to the public, we do everything we’re supposed to do and we’re not getting rewarded and we’re not getting respected.”
Commissioners said there’s no money for county raises this year.
“Maybe you should do a little audit and find some,” Malley remarked.
Malley had originally congratulated the Board for raising gas taxes.
“You needed to do that for years,” she remarked. “We were way behind what Escambia County’s charging for gas tax and we should have caught up a long time ago. That would have helped us the last seven years the budget has been so bad and we haven’t been getting our merit increases.”
Commissioners approved a budget that includes a 3 percent property tax revenue hike, and doubles the County’s portion of gas taxes.
The budget keeps the millage rate the same: 6.0953. That’ll bring in 3.1 percent more property tax revenues ($48.3 million). In order to bring in the same amount of property taxes as last year ($46.8 million), commissioners would have had to drop the millage rate to the “rollback rate” of 6.0339 mills.
Recent county raises cost $1.3 million per year, which originally came out of non-recurring funds like reserves.
The final operating budget is $86,134,537, up 7.9 percent from last year’s $79,822,649.  The full budget totals $111.8 million. Last year’s was $103.9 million.
The largest increase – $4.1 million came from the Sheriff’s budget, which went up 12.5 percent.

*Story modified to reflect 2015 operating budget was $79,822,649, not $68,771,002 as previously reported.