MANATEE COUNTY — Plea after plea came before the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners Sept. 13, during the board’s budget adoption hearing.
And, by the night’s end, the commission had unanimously agreed to find more funding for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, offering the organization a total of $3.2 million with which it could address ongoing salary compression issues.
The board agreed to find $1.7 million in the budget and combine it with $1.5 million from savings in health-care costs to fund the change.
“We have some big problems and you highlighted that,” Commissioner Michael Gallen told deputies, who filled the commission’s meeting chambers to standing room only. “This is a fairness issue. It’s a public health and-safety issue. I’m committed to making an unpopular decision for the betterment of the community.”
“We truly needed to hear from you guys,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said.
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube attended previous budget workshops and meetings, at which he told commissioners he was losing experienced deputies to higher-paying agencies. He also noted longtime employees were making nearly the same amount as newer recruits, causing gross salary compression issues.
One such employee, Chris Thames, told commissioners he was making only 22 cents more per hour than his brother, a fellow deputy, although he had been with the agency six years longer.
Dozens came forward to share about their financial hardships and how compensation issues were pulling away experienced employees to higher-paying jobs and creating safety issues for deputies in the field. The sheriff’s office was also losing highly skilled officers, such as those working on the bomb squad and other special forces units, that required more training.
“If you ignore something as significant as your public servants, they are going to go somewhere else,” Deputy Dawn Stroup said. “The deputies have worked relentlessly to keep crime down, and what is our reward? Zero.”
“Every year the problem of pay is put off,” Sgt. Richard McClain said.
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said there has been a pay freeze countywide for the last five years. This year, he proposed to provide salary increases to employees because of health-care savings. The 3% raise was already accounted for in the budget. Constitutional officers such as the sheriff, he said, must implement the raises as they see fit.
The county’s roughly $458 million budget includes no millage increase. Commissioners adopted the same millage rate as last year — 6.2993.
After hearing pay concerns from paramedics and other emergency services personnel, commissioners said they wanted to meet with department heads, to discuss compensation issues.
By Pam Eubanks at [email protected].