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City employee classification discussion continues

By Staff | Feb 3, 2015

After approving the addition of a full-time building inspector position, extending the city’s contract for exotic plant removal and accepting a Florida Health Depart-ment award, City Council Monday night entered further discussion of the employee classification and compensation study that Mayor Marni Sawicki brought to council’s attention at last week’s council meeting.

Last week, Sawicki’s frustration with a lack of adequate information requested for several months about the ongoing classification study boiled over at the dais. She claimed a working relationship with City Manager John Szerlag was impossible as a result. She somewhat backtracked Monday night as she calmly shared more feelings on the matter.

She said she met with Szerlag earlier Monday and talked about the study and both agreed to work this out to go forward.

“This is not me telling you that the city manager is at fault,” she said. “It’s a systemic problem that goes back years, but we need to talk about the real issue.”

She said that just last Friday, she received the information on the study that she has been seeking all along and wanted to share a few points on salary and ranges with council to show what she has been talking about.

She cited one employee who had been working out of title for eight years and the person before that worked six years out of title.

“This is about being fiscally responsible and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Sawicki said.

A number of employees are improperly classified, working outside of their classification or have no official title, which has created compensation issues throughout the ranks.

“The number I’ve been seeking is a minimum of $23.6 million to fix,” Sawicki said. “I need to see the work behind this, Mr. City Manager. Just looking at the numbers, it has been 14 months that I’ve been asking and I get this since Friday. If this figure is just to take salaries to the minimum you can multiply it by three, then are we talking about $50 million, $75 million?

“Employee compensation is a big problem,” she said. “It accounts for 70 percent of our entire budget. That is a big chunk of change for this city.”

Sawicki clarified for council that the process is broken. It becomes a policy issue because the process is broken for all city employees.

“How are we going to address this?” she said. “How are we going to tackle $75 million in pay?”

“What I’m hearing so far is a spirit of cooperation that I was not hearing last week,” Councilmember Jim Burch told Sawicki. “I hear you, I support you. It’s a very complex issue. You’re probably going to hate me for saying this but I’m so glad you are leading this and not me. You are the right person to be leading this and I see we are in a different place than last week. I feel that, I can sense that. We’re all trying to go about it the right way.”

Szerlag said staff would be updating council at Wednesday’s special meeting explaining what they and the consultant have discovered.

Increased demand for building inspections caused Community Development director Vince Cautero to request converting a part-time contract inspector position to a full-time inspector position. He said there were almost 38,000 inspections last year, an 11 percent increase with an anticipated increase of another 10 percent this year.

Converting the part-time position to full-time would cost the city an additional$25,000 to be taken from the DCD fund that uses revenue from permit and other fees.

Council approved extending Engecon Construction’s contract to remove non-native Brazilian pepper trees throughout the city for 2015. When questioned, the city is not removing non-native Australian pine trees because most of them line canal banks that would be subject to erosion if the trees were removed. The new contract costs the city $500,000.

The city was recognized as a Healthy Weight Community award winner by the Florida Department of Health stemming from the city’s 90 miles of interconnected bike pathways, farmer’s market, summer programs promoting healthy lifestyles and 200 miles of sidewalks encouraging residents to get out and exercise.

Friends of Wildlife presented the city with a handmade quilt to be hung at City Hall until the Burrowing Owl Festival at Rotary Park on Feb. 28. It marks the 10th anniversary of the city naming the burrowing owl the official bird.

Wednesday’s special council meeting will address the annual water and wastewater report, the Chapter 19 Utilities Code of Ordinances and the classification and compensation study. That meeting starts at 4:30 p.m. in room A200 of the Nicholas Annex building.