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Port Authority nixes pay increase for port staff


 PALMETTO - Attrition has helped Port Manatee avoid employee layoffs and cut expenses, executive director David McDonald told port authority members on Thursday.

Employees have also taken on additional work responsibilities amid a hiring freeze, he said, and that's why there was a line item in the port's budget for a 5 percent pay increase for employees.

"We have a very experienced team and we want to avoid (layoffs)," McDonald said.

"We have continued to tighten the budget for the third year in a row," he said. "From the 2006-07 budget, this is a combined reduction of over 14 percent; this year about 6 percent was added to our previous reductions."

McDonald said that he understands this is a tough issue with county employees losing their jobs, but he wanted to see workers at the port get some compensation. "We lost a key member that retired this last month that was in our purchasing and we spread that to other people," he said. "People are doing additional jobs willingly. We talked about it beforehand."

Most authority members were not happy about the item, and the vote was 6-1, with Gwendolyn Brown dissenting, to approve the budget with a motion that McDonald bring back a study of salaries and job responsibilities at the port.

"We certainly value all our port employees and we certainly don't begrudge them having an adjustment in their income, but we are experiencing very difficult times," Donna Hayes said. "These are not normal times. I would only ask that no raises be incorporated in here."

"We certainly are very understanding of that, and particularly in regards to the county administrator's position," McDonald said. "We would work very closely with the county administrator and make certain that any adjustments, if adjustments were to take place, were in line with the same philosophy and strategy that the county was considering as well.

"We have no problem bringing this particular issue back to you. I think for the purposes of the budget I would like to keep it in the budget but certainly pledge to you that I would bring it back to you and inform and ask for your permission to bring it back to you at the appropriate time with the consideration of what the county and other entities might be doing."

Carol Whitmore was more forceful, and said that the tight economic times meant that employees denied a raise probably weren't going to leave.

"I totally don't support it and I won't support it," she said, unless there was a a pay classification study.

"The unemployment is 12.2 percent in Manatee County right now, and I'm not going to support any increases in anybody's salary right now. Not that I don't think you deserve it, and I don't think we're going to lose anybody because there's no jobs out there to get. So in all fairness to all the employees in the county as well as the citizens that would be begging for a job, I'm not going to approve a budget with any increase in salaries."

Joe McClash, however, said that since the port is not tax-supported and there has been a reduction in employees there, a raise would not be out of order.

"I don't have a problem leaving it in the budget since (the port) is not tax-supported by the county," he said. "The way I understand it, there's been a significant reduction in employees over the past few years through attrition and so I think when you take a look at asking people to do more work than what their original job description was because you have less people working, then there may be some justification that the director has to increase the pay of certain people."

It doesn't hurt to allow it in the budget, he said, since there is no support from property taxes in it. But McClash said McDonald should come back at another meeting and explain how much more work is being done by people.

Larry Bustle said they should look at the port as a business. "It truly is different," he said. "The only way really to evaluate a proposal to raise salaries out here is to compare the marketplace. I would reserve my judgment until you show us what other ports are doing," he told McDonald.

Whitmore noted that she'd rather see it in reserves and then talk about it. "I just can't see giving raises when we don't have some kind of guide, like job descriptions, matching salaries. It sends a wrong message as a port."

She said she would approve the budget if the money goes into reserves, but not raises.

"I think this is a little overdramatized," Brown said. "What has always transpired is that the director always comes back with a job description for a person who he may be recommending an increase for."

But John Chappie said, "It's not the time; it's just not the right time," adding, "The bottom line is we are representing the people of Manatee County, and they're the ones who elected us. It's independent, in a sense, but it is a major tool in our county."

After the meeting, McDonald said he was satisfied with the outcome.

"It's just a budgetary item, and what the port authority has asked is if and when we make adjustments - because it is not a carte blanche. There were some allusions there, or inferences, that it was a carte blanche, that everyone gets a 5 percent raise across the board. That is not what it does," he said.

"It is a budgetary line item and it just allows for the fact that we're down 20 percent on employment and so a lot of employees have had to take on additional duties. As I see it, what the authority has requested is that when we decide to make adjustments to bring it back to them so that they can review and approve those adjustments.

"It was just a lot of discussion, and I think we're in good shape in coming back with what the authority's requested. Just come back with a detailed study of why certain people out to get increases or not. We understand the sensitivities at this point in time."


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