Leaders' pay raises considered
By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
DADE CITY -- As they wrapped up their first series of city budget discussions over the weekend, having reviewed the needs of every city department, city commissioners found themselves talking about one other request: their own salaries.
They might ask voters to double their pay, from $100 to $200 a month. The mayor currently gets an extra $50 a month.
In Zephyrhills, City Council members are paid $400 monthly. Port Richey commissioners are paid $360 a month, and in New Port Richey commissioners are paid $300 a month. In San Antonio and St. Leo, the elected positions are unpaid.
Pay for Dade City commissioners hasn't changed in at least 20 years, Commissioner Bill Dennis said. Commissioner Eunice Penix said the stipend is far lower than what other elected officials in similar-sized cities are paid.
"We do this as a service, but I think a raise would be fair," Commissioner Lowell Harris said. The extra money would at least defray some of the expenses commissioners incur, he said.
Looking to the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, commissioners over two days last week heard from department heads looking to increase pay for Fire and Police department employees, listened to requests for hundreds of thousands of dollars in new equipment, worried about looming insurance costs and learned it could take $1-million to $2.5-million to repair or replace an aging City Hall.
The city might also be in the market for a computer upgrade and need to spend more to replace City Attorney Bill Brewton if he retires as expected next summer.
Commissioners reviewed every aspect of city finances during four hours of meetings. On Wednesday they heard from police Chief Phil Thompson and fire Chief Bob Cabot, who both said their employees are dramatically underpaid and said the city needs to start on a three-year salary improvement program immediately.
On Saturday, City Manager Doug Drymon said a consultant determined it would be cheaper to move city government into the Tampa Electric Co. building the city bought this year than to refurbish the existing three-story City Hall building.
Upgrading and adding on to the TECO building would cost about $1-million, Drymon said. Repairing City Hall would cost about $2.5-million.
Everything was on the table as commissioners debated city finances. Dennis said he would even consider cutting city contributions to Main Street, the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce and Sunrise domestic violence center that total about $27,000 a year.
Dennis said he would also like to reduce the city property tax rate.
City Clerk Jim Class told commissioners it is likely too late to add proposed new taxes, such as a charge for stormwater runoff management, but said commissioners may consider adding a utility tax to water bills, a move that would generate about $50,000 a year.
In addition to personnel and equipment costs, the city also expects an 8 percent increase in liability and property insurance and a 17 to 40 percent increase in health insurance rates, Laura Beagles, assistant to the city manager, said.
"If we even do get a cost-of-living (raise), it's probably not going to cover the insurance," Beagles said. "Our employees are very concerned."
Without making specific demands, commissioners agreed they would rather hold off on capital expenditures in the coming year and devote the budget to improving city employee pay.
It will be up to Drymon and other department heads to hammer out a budget they can present to commissioners for debate later this summer.
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