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County: No raise for 4th year

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Millage stays the same, budget set

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

County employees will go a fourth year without a pay increase under a budget approved last week by the Levy County Board of Commissioners.
The commission voted 2-3 on a motion to grant the pay raise by Commissioner Danny Stevens of Williston and seconded by Commissioner Lilly Rooks of Rosewood during an evening meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9, that was attended by about 25 county workers and their spouses.
Dissenting in the vote were Commission Chair Nancy Bell of Chiefland, Commissioner Chad Johnson of Chiefland and Commissioner Marsha Drew of Yankeetown.
The vote on the pay increase came immediately after the commission unanimously approved holding the property tax millage rate at last year's level of 7.4212 mills per $1,000 of assessed value, and by a 4-1 vote, with Johnson dissenting,  a  $58,834,867 budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Stevens opened the pay raise discussion noting that a 3 percent hike for full time county employees would cost $332,000. He proposed financing the raise from the county reserve of $1.2 million, or by taking $132,000 from the county reserve of $1.2 million and $200,000 from the state's grant of $1.2 million in money under the financially constrained counties legislation. The "fiscally constrained" money has been earmarked for use on road construction in past years, but Stevens said it could be used for other purposes.
Rooks, who said she lobbied to get the Legislature to set aside money for the county, noted that $200,000 of it was earmarked to buy two ambulances. But the commission is not buying any ambulances in the coming year after buying two this year and winning a state grant for a third. "That money that Commissioner Stevens has identified would not have been in the budget had it not been for my work in Tallahassee." She said dipping into the reserve would be "to take some money to help these families out."
When Stevens made the motion and Rooks seconded it, Bell quickly called for the vote.
But she was interrupted by Johnson, the opponent in the Nov. 2 election, who objected to the vote being taken without discussion. "You called for the vote prior to discussion," Johnson said mentioning that was contrary to "Robert's Rules of Order."
"There are no 'Robert's Rules of Order here'," Bell replied. The commission has not adopted Robert's as their rules for parliamentary procedure.  But Bell said she would allow the discussion.
    Johnson said he could not dip into the $1,297,248 in reserve money for the coming year to pay the $332,000 in raises. He said if an emergency occurred the county would have less than $1 million on hand to cover the expenses.
    "I hope and I realize that some of us or our families don't have that in reserve," Jonhson said. "There is nothing in the near future that indicates we will have an increase in jobs in Florida."
    Talking to the workers in the audience, Johnson said, "Not one of your is not worth the 3 percent."
    He said he was worried "If we grant this raise today and we find ourselves with something happens and we're going to have to send people home."
    Bell tried reassuring the workers that the commission, while not giving the raise, is covering an 11.8 percent increase in health insurance premiums for the employees and their families as it has done in the past two budgets.
    "Believe me, I'd like to give everyone an increase." She said she was still sticking to her suggestion of a cost of living adjustment of $600 to $800 for each worker.
    Drew said she agreed with Johnson on the issue of dipping into the reserve. "It's tough and you do deserve a raise. But the money we keep back may keep your job." She said the commission had a hard time fashioning the county budget this year. "We worked hard not to lay anybody off."
    Before the vote, Pam Owens of the county's Parks and Recreation Department, asked the commissioners, "Is $132,000 really going to make a difference. Giving a pay raise is going to help the economy at this point."