St. Joe to keep millage steady, raise pay

Port St. Joe city commissioners are planning to keep the property
tax millage unchanged, and in doing so boost employee pay as the county nears
the mandate for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

At the Aug. 3 budget meeting, city commissioners reviewed
budget projections for the 2021-22 fiscal year as they plan to keep the ad
valorem millage at 3.5914 mills, and in doing so raise an additional $165,000
for the budget.

“We’ve had a big increase in grants from Hurricane Michael,
a large influx of money helping with infrastructure,” said City Manager Jim

He said the city is working to keep water and sewer rates
down, noting that the current ordinance, based on a 10-year plan, factors in an
annual 3 percent rate hike.

“We’re trying to hold the line on rates,” said
Anderson. “We can do that through refinancing, and try to come up with a plan to consolidate
debt and come up with a better interest rate.”

In his review of the budget, Mike Lacour, the financial analysis
coordinator, said the proposed budget factors in a 5 percent increase for
health insurance, lower than the original 9 percent number increase.

“If we can
get a 5 percent increase that’s good,” said Mayor Rex Buzzett.

Other insurances also are expected to rise by 5 percent.

Lacour said the budget calls for all fulltime employees,
other than those with the police department, to receive a 5 percent cost of
living increase. “The goal was to get us to a base number for the minimum wage
coming from the state,” he said.

The 5 percent hike meant a 75-cent raise for those at the
starting rate of $13.08. Instead, the city is proposing a $1 dollar hike to
make it $14.08

In response to a question from Commissioner David Ashbrook,
Anderson said a $1 across the board hike, for all 60 city employees, costs
about $120,000 per year.

In terms of the police department, with the starting pay at
$15.50 per hour, an additional $3 was made to make the starting pay $18.50. “We
also added various increase rates across the board,” he said.

Lacour said that in order to avoid what is called salary
compression, in which the pay rates of younger, less experienced employees are
raised more steeply than those who have been on the job longer, the pay hikes
range from $1 to $3.80 per hour.

Commissioner Scott Hoffman said he would like to see a
stepped pay system, with regular annual increases, which will help in eliminating
the compression issue and in better retaining employees.

“We got them (the police department) squared away this year
and next year we can look at other departments,” he said. “Every department is
faced with the same issues. We just lost another person at City Hall and that’s
a big hit.

“My goal is to focus on another department in the next
year,” Hoffman said. “I focused on the police department this year, that’s the
one that was bleeding the most.”

Chief Jake Richards said he plans to turn the administrative
assistant position into a fulltime job, due to the increasing workload and the
need for a front office person all week long.

“The current employee can reapply but I’m looking for some different
qualifications and certifications,” he said. “It’s almost more a legal clerk
than a secretary and it’s going to require some certifications and preexisting

Anderson outlined several changes had been made in different
department budgets, including removing the project coordinator position from the
budget, purchasing a new vehicle for code enforcement, and because of an
additional $20,000 in sales tax revenue than was projected, boosting the cash
carry forward that will be available.

The boat ramp revenues, based on last year, remain in limbo,
as Mayor Rex Buzzett is pushing for a $20 increase for use by out-of-county
residents. “We really aren’t going to have a good handle on this until after scallop
season,” said Lacour.

Anderson said that with the boost in the tax base and in
continued new construction, will come an increased demand on services.

“We’re excited
about the number of homes we’re adding,” he said. “The general fund is going to
continue to grow. And there’s more that people are going to ask of us.”

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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