The Escambia County Commission began the discussion last night by talking about three percent cost-of-living increases for county employees, but in the face of a gallery full of disgruntled sheriff officers who were not afforded the increase, the conversation had grown to include the sheriff’s office, as well as employees working for the property appraiser, tax collector and supervisor of elections. But now Amy Lavoy, county numbers cruncher, was telling commissioners the across-the-board increases were gonna run around $3.5 million.
“I was about to ask you, where do you get the money?” said Commissioner Marie Young.
“I was hoping a fire alarm would go off before you asked me that question,” answered Lavoy. “In my opinion, the only way is to make cuts.”
This conversation began during Thursday morning’s work session. Commissioner Kevin White had suggested two percent, then three percent, cost-of-living increases for county employees. The outgoing commissioner noted that the employees had not seen an increase in several years.
By evening, the sheriff’s office had amassed an impressive force to storm the chambers for the regular session. Three of the five commissioners warmed up nicely to the concept of expanding the increases to include the sheriff, as well as the other constitutional offices. As Commissioner Gene Valentino put it, “different gremlins are popping out of the box at different times looking for raises.”
The commission passed the increases on a 3-2 vote, with Young and Commissioner Grover Robinson dissenting.
“I can’t support anything at this point and time,” Robinson had said prior to the vote, questioning the move’s fiscal sense. “It’s not a question of do our employees deserve raises. Absolutely.”
The increase for just the county employees that fall within the commission’s budget, would cost $1.2 million. The sheriff’s office is another $1.6 million. When the remaining constitutional offices are thrown in—except the Clerk of Court, which already received increases—the cost rises to more than $3 million.
Lavoy estimated the price tag at $3.1 to $3.5 million. She asked the commission what areas of the budget she should consider off-limits for cuts.
“So, now we have to name the sacred cows?” said Chairman Wilson Robertson.
Robertson noted that the county had not taken as big of a hit as expected earlier in the year as a result of the state’s Medicaid bill. There were also the proposed taxes to fund the library and mass transit systems, which would free up some funds in the budget. Other commissioners suggested that the reserves might need to be dipped into in order to fulfill the cost-of-living increases.
The motion to pass the increases hinged on the move being budget-neutral. County staff was tasked with making the math work and bring it back to the commission.
“Really, this just gets the ball rolling,” said Robertson.
Earlier in the meeting, the commission had tackled some other budgetary issues. Two supplemental budget amendments were passed, the first fulfilling a budget request from Sheriff David Morgan, the other setting aside funds for economic development.
Commissioners decided to give Morgan the entirety of his request, more than $353,000. Slightly less than that was put into an economic development fund.