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Warning of Brain Drain, Flagler Government Signals a Return of Employee Raises in 2012

| February 6, 2012

County government employees have seen their take-home pay erode over the past three years. Now government fears losing employees to better pay elsewhere. (© FlaglerLive)

This is the third year in a row that Flagler County government employees, including firefighters and sheriff’s deputies, have not had a raise. It is also likely to be the last year without a raise as county commissioners and the county administrator begin warning that loyal, well-trained employees are leaving Flagler for better pay elsewhere.

“I am proposing a pay raise within this budget,” County Administrator Craig Coffey told the county commission this morning, referring to the 2012 budget he’ll submit in spring. “The exact amount, I can’t tell you at this time, but it’s probably in the 3 percent range is what I’m looking at.”

Coffey revealed the proposal as part of an effort to enhance the benefits package of some of his top administrators. Commissioners were not unsympathetic. But they blocked that particular proposal, which would add $12,600 to this year’s costs. Instead, they directed the administrator to set a workshop meeting within the next 30 days for a more comprehensive analysis of employee pay at all levels, with comparisons between Flagler’s pay scale and that of other counties. The workshop will likely lay the groundwork for more systematic pay increases or improvements in employee benefits, at least by 2012, if not—in some benefits’ cases—sooner.

“To take this up before we’re discussing the budget coming up in the next few months, I’m not comfortable with that,” Commissioner Milissa Holland said. “We’re still facing some unbelievable economic challenges. We haven’t gotten a whole picture in my mind of what’s to come with revenues, and what we’re going to be dealing with this coming year. So I’m not ready to take action on this item today.” But she was supportive of the workshop.

Coffey today was seeking to add three employees—the county engineer, the general services director and the community services director—to the so-called “Senior Management Services Class” in the Florida Retirement System. The county currently has five employees in that class (the county administrator and his deputy, the county attorney and his deputy, a vacant position for now, and the financial services director).

The additions would have expanded that “class” to eight. The expansion would be unusual, because it doesn’t usually applies to division directors. State law allows a county agency to have up to 10 individuals so classified, though the number of employees who are, in fact, part of the senior management service class presumably depends on the size of the county and the importance of the position, as it does in other government agencies. For example, community college presidents and school superintendents are part of that management class. School principals and college deans are not. Adding a division director or a county engineer to the class would more broadly define senior management and potentially raise classification issues with similar, lateral positions in the future. Costs are an additional matter.

Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Coffey defended the approach in his memo briefing the issue to commissioners. “While I fully understand the tightness of today’s budget as well as anyone,” he wrote, “I also understand the even greater costs of losing key people and the difficulty in not being able to attract talented individuals as we constantly attempt to work smarter but with fewer resources. The costs to the organization are often hidden but substantial and can be in the hundreds of thousands. The issues may be in the form of such things as: less grants, more legal problems, or new employee issues, but each has a cost. The current individuals have provided leadership to the county in their own way and literally have saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The justification for the re-classification sounded to commissioners like a raise by other means in order to keep the employees from leaving, a tactic that didn’t convince Commissioner Alan Peterson, who noted that retirement benefits are portable from job to job. But he—like all other commissioners—was more interested in achieving Coffey’s ends through a more complete look at salaries and benefits.

“I think we’re starting to have a problem losing experienced people,” Peterson said. “The Florida Association of Counties in their daily news clips have indicated that there are counties in the western part of the state that are beginning to have serious problems in their employee changes.” He asked for a comparative salary analysis looking at St. Johns, Volusia, Putnam counties and some of the major nearby cities such as Daytona Beach, DeLand and Palm Coast.

“I would like to make sure we’re looking at counties our size, to look across the state and see maybe a county that may be similar in population but similar in tax-base income,” Commissioner Barbara Revels said. She also noted the accumulating factors eroding employees’ pay. “Because of our health care changes and the pensions, our employee are receiving less than they have before, and they’ve had no raises, and we’re starting to see the very real potential that we’re going to lose high quality people that have hung on and stayed with us. And I don’t want to see that happen. So I don’t like putting this off but I agree with the points that both the commissioners have made.”

County employees have seen their take-home pay severely reduced in the past three years on three counts: their health insurance costs have increased between 5 and 10 percent, inflation has eroded close to 5 percent of their purchasing power, and, beginning this year, they’ve been required to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the state retirement system, which won’t benefit them more when they retire, but does reduce their pay now. The combined effect of the three factors has essentially reduced the take-home pay of an employee making, say, $40,000, by more than $3,000.

Gail Wadsworth, the county clerk, spoke from recent experience: “We lose people for lack of ability to pay a more competitive wage. I’ve lost people to other counties, and it hurts because they’re very well trained. And I understand leaving for $1.70 more an hour when you’re making $10.28 an hour and have three children. Those are the people I’m most concerned about.”

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38 Responses for “Warning of Brain Drain, Flagler Government Signals a Return of Employee Raises in 2012”

  1. Oneofthe10%whovoted. says:

    Won’t matter if you don’t have anybody left paying taxes in the county. Pay for this with WHAT? Maybe it’s time for an emergency pay cut for the commissioners?????

  2. Gia says:

    Someone with family, kids or not do not qualify more or less for pay raise better than any body else. This is not an excuse.They are still overpaid for what they are doing, especially with all these benefits.

    • ol'sarge says:

      Overpaid? Do you really feel teachers and firefighters are overpaid? Please elaborate…I would like to hear your logic, or lack thereof…

  3. palmcoaster says:

    Loosing these administrators with these over paid occupations? To whom, where or when, given the high unemployment in this country? What kind of Coffey is our county administrator drinking? Raises and additional benefits for people on the top tier, that get these outrageous compensations?
    This is the third year that our county employees do not receive a raise…? Well, for 16.5% or more of the taxpayers in this county, is probably the third year of unemployment. For the small business in Flagler county is over three years of depressed sales and still shutting down their doors. The common sense would be for our county employees specially the top tier one’s to just be happy that they have a job! I keep hearing on the financial news that a double recession may be on the way to hit us hard from now till 2013, given our government debt suspected to be at 75 trillions. Hope will not materialize. Better be cautious than sorry, while proposing to spend more tax dollars.

  4. Lin says:

    I would love to know what our county employees make compared to similar counties (demographic – with similar property values)

    And thank you Ms Holland for mentioning the revenue question. I don’t go food shopping without knowing how much money I have in my pocket to spend. And speaking of food, it has gone way up for everyone not just county employees as is gas, health insurance, etc. Not opposed to raises for deserving firefighters etc. but let’s be fiscally responsible and not just say lets just raise tax rates or fees for citizens.

  5. elaygee says:

    Short sighted taxpayers always seem to want high end performers earning minimum wage to run their government and provide services. What fantasy land did they come from?

    • Layla says:

      I don’t believe it is that at all. I think we are top heavy in too many government salaries here. We have to live within a budget.

      Someone gets a raise, someone else must take a cut.

  6. Think first, act second says:

    And how many of these commissioners are up for re-election this year? Makes you wonder how that plays into their thinking?

  7. Think first, act second says:

    If their pay has gone down for the past 3 years, why have my taxes gone up by more than 3% over these 3 years? Can I get a refund which would be a raise for me too?

  8. Anonymous says:

    As a very lucky state employee who doesn’t know the meaning of a raise, I find this absolutely disgusting. Flagler has second highest unemployment in the state. It’s a slap in the face to the very people that you work for! Yes, the pay sucks for public employees but the benefits sure make up for at least some of it. The only raises should be merit-based for people like firefighters, cops, etc.

  9. rickg says:

    So most of you residents would rather have the good government employees seek jobs elsewhere and take their valuable training and experience with them. Sounds like a great right wing argument that falls on its face.
    These are the people, your neighbors by the way, who provide you services you use every day. Your roads, traffic signals and signs, water quality, sewage disposal, animal control, government financial services, crime prevention, street cleaning, right of way landscaping etc. are all services provided for you, residents and taxpayers of Flagler County. And by the way these government employees who often take the job because they are dedicated public servants do so at less pay than many other private industry jobs. I wish my homeowners insurance company would cut the pay of its workers and employees so I could pay less in homeowners insurance premiums. But that’s not going to happen. I wish that other private companies would pay their employees an honest wage with decent benefits but I see that vanishing. How long is it going to take for people to see what is going on and not blame government employees for everything from the bird flu to higher prices in the grocery store?
    When are those who complain the loudest going to get the fact that Tallahassee has a pattern of moving state cost to local government? When are the same people going to get it that the Rs have been in charge over the past 14 years and no improvement in quality of life seems to have ocurred except for those large corporate giants and their CEOs?

    • Oneofthe10%whovoted says:

      Richg, do you know what a budget is? Our elected officials are supposed to be living within their’s. So unless you can show me where they are going to get the money for this, I guess we’re gonna have to risk losing employees.

  10. SAW says:

    County hierarchy “warning that loyal, well-trained employees are leaving Flagler for better pay elsewhere” what are they drinking over there at the Taj ?

    People leaving for better jobs elsewhere, if that is truly the case those employees are playing a very dangerous game of musical chairs. As many of us understand all too well, unemployment is a national problem at this time, and despite the latest hype, things are not a hell of a lot better than they have been in a couple of years.

    As for these vacant seats due to people moving on as Mr Coffey and his group say, they would certainly soon be filled by other qualified people, people more than willing and happy to have a nice job with a pay check.

  11. palmcoaster says:

    Dear Elaygee, could you please number how many high end projects, proposals, improvements “your supposedly under paid high end performers” materialized in Flagler County, in the last 15 years, aside from the Taj Mahal administration, emergency and King Hammond Justice Center structures, over built and over spent before its time on our pockets? What over inflated development bubble you come from?

  12. roco says:

    The unions have dstroyed all our industries and now they’re working on the civil side and are costing tax payers dearly.. They have pensions which are unheard of in the industrial business world.. Civil workers should not be allowed to organize and hold the community at bay with potential work stopages, They should be desurtified..

  13. dontbesoparanoid says:

    Just wondering how many of you are retired…

    • Layla says:

      sontbesoparanoid, I believe I recently read somewhere that about 27-28 percent of the local population are retired.

      Why don’t you wonder how many are employed? Not enough to merit increases at this time. You have the option to get off that city payroll and look elsewhere. You may wish to exercise it.

  14. Anonymous says:

    How much are the these individuals currently being paid that Craig Coffey wants to move up to a higher retirement? Seems to me the Daytona Beach News Journal had Heidi Petito at about $80,000, Joe Mayer at about $100,000 and Faith the engineer at like $108,000 a year. We don’t need managers there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians in Flagler County local government now.

    Why is Craig stepping up for these three cronies and not for those making peanuts to be paid a fair wage? The Commissioners need to tell Coffey to pack his bags!

  15. Jim J says:

    I find it absolutely disgusting that there is even consideration of a pay raise since Flagler has the highest unemployment in the state. It’s a slap in the face to the very people that you work for!

  16. palmcoaster says:

    Coffey wants one more engineer at 100,000/year helping the current lady engineer that makes $107,000 because of the backed up work…what work in this recession? Coffey already invented a position for his friend Rawlins former Enterprise Chairman on our pockets and now hired the former NJ, ED Helga at $107,000/year too and all plus benefits! Enough is enough of bleeding our taxpayers pockets in favor of the elite. These commissioners give a flying colors YES to all the frivolous expenses that Coffey proposes and have to go also.

  17. palmcoaster says:

    @Rickg ;the issue here is not mainly about the raise for the low tier employees is against the ones that make 80,000 and well over 100,000 that are not yet quite happy with their pay….in this highest unemployment county in Florida! Don’t you get it that unemployed tax payers are sustaining these high paid dudes and still claiming for more?

  18. No Expert says:

    I thought the quality of life and low cost of living would be enough to keep these employees working and living here. This is what the county and Palm Coast rely on to lure businesses to the area, yet it doesn’t keep existing employees and residents here if there is better income or opportunity somewhere else. Even when they make over $80,000 a year, they are looking for better opportunities in other communities according to the County Administrator.

  19. jespo says:

    Three percent? After taxes it means an extra 42 cents a day for each of my family members and will push me into a higher tax bracket that will actualy result in a financial loss come tax time. Ha ha! This is what you’re complaining about? Stop complaining about how tough things are; things get tough sometimes, and this is nothing compared to the hardships my parents and granparents faced at my age. If you put yourself into a house you couldn’t afford, bought cars you don’t need, buy your spoiled kids smart phones and brand clothing because you just can’t say no to your kids, didn’t have a proper savings buffer, and don’t have a plan to get out of unemployment….whose fault is this? It’s not mine. Those of us working, not retired, are the ones paying the higher taxes. Those of us who struggle to hold our houses and invest in them deserve to keep them. Those of us who make sound financial decisions daily deserve the opportunity to keep making them. If you can’t take the heat…….

  20. FlaglerCtyresident says:

    I’m not retired and work in the private sector – no one in our company has had a raise in 4 years plus we all now work and only get paid for 4 days a week. The media wants everyone to think that the economy is improving but it is not in most of the country and certainly not here in Flagler County. The Commissioners need to keep hearing from the tax payers and we need to vote them out of office when they don’t listen. I think our police, firefighters and paramedics do a fantastic job and I would love to pay them more money so let’s cut that new county engineer position, since there is not much work for the existing County engineer to do, and give that money to the people who really earn it.

  21. Anonymous says:

    If they did get a 3% raise it in all reality not be a raise at all! Just think about how thw 3% employee contribution to their retirerment worked out. First yes their 3% was put into their own retierment accounts BUT the County Now does not put in that amount. So the County just saved 3% on Total employee compansation. and in fact it was mor then just 3% that was no longer putin the retirerment accounts by the County.

  22. Layla says:

    I’m not worried about a “brain drain”. It’s my wallet I’m worried about draining.

  23. The American says:

    Tax payers of this county start going to the commissioners meetings and voicing your opinions. Coffey and the rest of the high paying parasittes in the potato palace have got to go. Where do they think the money is coming from. Raising our taxes for these hight salaries. They only represent twenty percent of the total county and they are getting these high salaries. The board of county commissioner have got to go also. People you think they are representing us, they are like hell. The county commissioners and their Economic Development Council classes at the tune of $22,500. to have a facilitator from The Delphi Group who are working for the Federal Government to tell them how to take our property and Constitutional rights away. They will deny that. Ask Melissa Holland and Barbara Revels if they know anything about Agenda 21. Read about it folks. It is right here in this county and throughout the country. These county commissioners and Coffey have no clue as to what they are doing in this county and they certainly are not working in our best interest. Fire them all. Do not relect them and get rid of the fat cat Coffey.

  24. The American says:

    Coffey and County Commissioners where do you think the money is coming from. How can you possibly think of raises in the bad economic times. Most of this county is made up of retired folks. Are they getting a raise in their retirement checks? The raises that you are considering are for some that have been retired from other positions and collect another paycheck plus perks and another retirement. WOW….

  25. The American says:

    It really amazes me when it comes budget time for the Supervisor of Elections, the County Commissioners and Craig Coffey stand over her with a machete to cut her budget to the quick. It sure looks like the good ole boys work very well together for their own.

  26. palmcoaster says:

    Totally agree with American. Now also we have Milissa Holland marrying the #2 cop in Flagler County O’Brien and that alone tightens up “the good ole boy network”, around us. She needs to go now and first.
    We need new county commissioners that will find and hire the right county manager at a fair compensation and not one like Coffey over paid and overspending.

  27. some guy says:

    Most that work in our County Government make less then 40K and A lot less. Now when we are talking about those in County Government who do make BIG bucks for this little County like those here making 80-100+k a year i see no need to up their pay or retirerment input by us. Also why do those at the top who make so much more then the rank and file workers get a much bettter retirerment pay ??? they make damgood $$ they can put away as they wish from the $$ they already get for added retirerment income.

  28. rickg says:

    @Palmcoaster and @one of the 10% who voted Republican You guys still don’t get it. Its like anything else. You get what you pay for. If you want to maintain Flagler’s quality of life and improve its economic condition you need to expend funds to do so. Spending nothing or cutting back on spending does nothing but keep this place in a rut. How much money does Flagler collect in taxes??? Hmm I bet its quite alot. If this was a private business, like most of you would prefer government to be, then the CEO and other Department Heads would be getting much more than 80 to 100K.

    • Oneofthe10%whovoted says:

      Do you realize just how ridiculous your statement sounds? Pay them a bundle and we will live lavishly?

      This is NOT a private business, this is TAXPAYER MONEY, pal.

  29. palmcoaster says:

    @rickg do you work for the local Chamber of Commerce? By the way you were wrong, I did not vote Republican, maybe Oneofthe10% did. Anyway does not affect the fact that you are rooting in the wrong side of this fence. At least the10% and I agree on this one, from this side.

  30. Kevin says:

    OMG! I cannot believe I found comments from Palmcoaster I agreed with earlier on the comments list. Really the ones who are really needed are the lower-tier as they are referred to drone bees are the ones getting screwed. Let the highly over-compensated top brass having lottery type positions in terms of compensation for their level of technical training go to these imaginary positions elsewhere so that people they once supervised can move into their slot and force the bum leaving to train them or is that just me expecting rational though from the county adminstrators—it is what is done in business every second of the day.

  31. Funny says:

    Funny how when the local governments needed employees to keep up with the ‘boom’ going on, it was nearly impossible to get qualified help because the pay wasn’t even close to competing with the private sector. People applied and turned down the offers over and over. Local government was forced to hire less qualified employees and spend more energy in training to qualify. NOW, that the ‘boom’ is over, it’s funny how government jobs are the ones in the spotlight and everyone thinks they are so great – they pay is still what it was – somewhat less, due to the 3% deduction for the state pension (which was not part of anyones original deal), and now paying for the insurance, another deduction, So WHY now that all the high paying jobs are gone is everyone so interested in the government jobs and want all their heads ona chopping block when most of you turned it down years ago to make the big buck in the private industry???????? TRUTH

  32. palmcoaster says:

    @Funny in the private industry nowadays “there is no longer money to be made by the employees of private businesses” only for the higher management and VIP’s. Do you know what are they doing with employees now? They are having them to train new hired employees at much lower paid and once their training finishes the experienced senior employee is fired or they make changes in the schedules like working 5 days a week that include weekends and or crazy hours on the hope they quit. Simple replaced by new slaves as our labor laws are no longer in existence in our country and thanks to the conservatives agenda to benefit corporations. Nobody has the faintness idea of what these corporations are putting their workers thru right now!

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