BRADENTON – At the County's public budget hearing Thursday night, more than three dozen Manatee County Sheriff's deputies and EMS workers showed up to plea for their first pay increases in more than five years. Commissioners empathized with the workers, but voted unanimously to approve a tentative budget that did not include the raises.
The issue highlights continuing tensions between governments and their employees who are in taxpayer-supported positions, as revenues continue to plummet and payment for services residents expect are juggled and prioritized. Public safety is a perennial concern and citizens often demand the very best, but scoff at the idea of raising taxes to support maintaining or improving human resources.
Both Sheriff Steube and Ken Skaggs of the International Association of EMT's and Paramedics hinted that the employees of each group were considering a vote to unionize, which would in all likelihood be a much more challenging position for the board.
Commissioners indicated that they were in favor of raises, but that the budget simply doesn't provide for them without a tax increase. Commissioner McClash pointed out that the county is already going into its reserves to fund shortfalls in service.
Commissioner DiSabatino mentioned the $4 million the county expected to save on health services next year and the possibility of using it for raises. Only Commissioner Michael Gallen expressed openness at looking at a tax increase, saying feedback in his district suggested citizens were open to a millage rate hike if it improved public safety.
Thursday's vote is not binding. The budget process takes place over several months, beginning with the administrator's presentation of his proposed budget to the board, to which commissioners provide input and work is continued. Public hearings are designed to collect taxpayer feedback on services, millage rates, expectations and suggestions.
The final public budget hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. next Thursday, September 13 in the commission chambers, where the board will vote to adopt its final FY 2013 budget. Click here to read the proposed 2013 budget.