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Lee County payroll eyed as deficit looms

Jul. 6, 2013


Lee County’s payroll costs in the most recent year came in at just under 2006 levels, as commissioners look for ways to cut a growing budget deficit and dwindling reserve funds.

County officials slashed full-time staffing levels by 8.4 percent in 2012 compared with 2006, contributing to Lee’s cost savings, according to county documents that budget for positions.

Commissioners paid out about $111 million to employees who manned Lee’s 2,467 jobs last year versus about $112 million it cost in 2006 to cover 2,695 jobs.

While Commissioner Frank Mann said he’s encouraged by those numbers, more needs to be done as Lee faces a growing deficit that’s prompted commission talk of raising taxes and fees.

“Unfortunately our previous staff has told us they’ve done all they can,” Mann said. “It is my hope that Roger Desjarlais can come in here with a fresh look and sharp pencil to find ways to reduce expenditures.”

County Manager Desjarlais, who started work Monday, said his review of Lee’s staffing will take about two months.

As part of his department by department review, Desjarlais said, he will examine manpower, management to employee ratios and pay for certain positions.

“It takes some real analysis,” said Desjarlais, who noted some changes could be instituted sooner than two months.

Mann’s most recent request for clarity concerning Lee’s staffing came at Lee’s June budget meeting.

Scrutinizing staff claims that more than 400 positions were cut from Lee’s payroll over the last five years, Mann questioned exactly how many employees were let go and whether they worked in community development, handling building permits and development fees before Lee’s real estate bust.

Most of the employee’s Lee laid off, 83 of 125, worked in community development, according to recently released county documents.

Those jobs were primarily tied to construction and other tasks related to Lee’s building boom.

“Those will come back when the permit applications come back and the fees come back,” Mann told county staff while questioning just how much government shrunk, at the June 26 budget hearing.

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Lee County declined to estimate actual employee numbers on an annual basis. Staffing levels, provided by Lee County’s budget office could be significantly different from employees collecting paychecks.

But how many employees Lee paid compared on average during any given year remains unknown, because county administration doesn’t track the numbers.

Assistant County Manager Pete Winton said Lee’s budget office focuses on positions. Because employees come and go, Winton said, administrators don’t review the average number of actual workers over a given period on a countywide basis.

After Commission Chairman Cecil Pendergrass voiced concern Lee carried too many supervisors on its payroll, county staff compiled a report this year on supervisors compared with part-time and full-time employees.

Lee identifies one supervisor for every five employees from a field of 2,345 full-time and part-time staffers.

Separately, county administration parsed out “blue collar workers” — a group of about 819 mechanics, maintenance men and similar employees — who had one supervisor for every 5.9 or so in their ranks.

“Some departments had a 3 to 1 ratio, but it was only a three-employee department,” Pendergrass said. “Some departments looked overstaffed for new people, but it’s because they have so few people.”

Overall, Pendergrass said he was satisfied management ratios are about right.

“I think there’s some things we need to adjust or reduce,” Pendergrass said. “Hopefully, Roger can come back to us with some good recommendations, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Desjarlais said some employees, listed as supervisors, actually work in contract compliance and other jobs that require them to oversee few, if any, employees. Changing titles, Desjarlais said, will be part of his review.

“There’s going to be some decision on, is that appropriate?” Desjarlais said.

Pay raises

County staff also planned to ask for pay raises this year. Most of the commission’s 2,400 or so employees have gone without a raise the last five years.

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A 3 percent pay raise for those employees add a little more than $1 million to Lee’s operating deficit, which stood at about $32.8 million after better than expected taxable property values were released June 28.

Lee’s sheriff’s deputies are set to receive 3 percent pay raises, as part of a sheriff’s budget that came in $4.8 million higher than last year.

Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington and Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson also plan to give their employees 3 percent raises, while Tax Collector Larry Hart will adopt a state schedule that calls for $1,400 or $1,000 raises based on an employees’ pay — with the larger figure going to those earning less than $40,000.

Lee’s reserve fund, which has propped up an operating deficit that came in at $30 million for the past two years, is set to reach critical lows at the end of the year commissioners are budgeting for, 2013-14.

Commissioners return from recess and set tax rates July 30. County staff previously planned on pitching pay raises in August. The budget year begins Oct. 1.

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