By Rich Pollack
The good news is that most local government employees throughout the coastal communities of south Palm Beach County may be seeing raises in the upcoming fiscal year.
The not-so-great news is that for many of them, these raises will probably do little more than help them keep up with the increased cost of living in South Florida.
On average, most of the communities along the coast are proposing employee pay increases of about 3 percent, with some considering a little more and others a little less.
The proposed salary increases, for the most part, are an attempt by local governments to make up for recent years when there were no raises, while at the same time making sure that budgets remain financially sound.
“There were several years during the economic downturn where there wasn’t a lot of movement in terms of compensation and benefits,” says Ocean Ridge Town Manager Jamie Titcomb. “Times are better now with higher property valuations and as a result, there’s a little more flexibility for municipalities to catch up on government market-rate compensation.”
There is, however, only so much local governments can do.
“We always want to be as generous as possible, but we have to be conservative so as to not create an unstable fiscal situation,” Titcomb said.
For some towns enjoying the benefits of increased property values, creative approaches to recognizing employees can help maintain that delicate balancing act.
In Manalapan, for example, commissioners are considering a 3 percent pay increase for employees, up from 2.5 percent last year.
At the same time, however, town leaders are developing a longevity rewards program to compensate employees for their loyalty.
After five years, a full-time employee would receive a lump sum payment of $1,250; after 10 years, $2,500; after 15 years, $3,750, and after 20 years, $5,000.
Part-time employees would be eligible for half as much.
In Ocean Ridge, commissioners are considering merit raises for employees that would range from 2 percent to 5 percent, depending on several factors, including performance.
The town also recently changed its health insurance plan to one that Titcomb says provides better benefits to employees — whose premiums are fully covered by the town — and significantly lowers deductibles for family members.
In Highland Beach, commissioners are considering a 3 percent, across-the-board pay increase for all employees beginning Oct. 1 and have instituted a longevity pay plan, similar to the one being considered by Manalapan. Employees receive pay increases when they reach 10-, 15-, 20- and 25-year milestones.
In addition, the town is considering an incentive program where employees are rewarded for ideas that improve efficiency and effectiveness.
Beginning in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, employees will also get $1,000 they can use to help with medical costs not covered by their health insurance plan.
It is a change in the health insurance, however, that is partially responsible for civilian employees starting the process of forming a union.
In the past, employees were covered by a preferred provider organization, in which the town paid 100 percent of employee premiums and 85 percent of family coverage premiums.
In July, however, the town switched to a three-tiered plan that includes a health maintenance organization plan and two preferred provider organization plans.
Employees who join the HMO would save money on their family plans, while there would be increases for both employee and family coverage with the PPO plans.
Some employees who say they want to maintain the high level of coverage they received in the past have balked at the increased rates.
In South Palm Beach, commissioners are considering a 3 percent across-the-board pay increase for employees, while in Gulf Stream, a 2.5 percent increase — down from 3 percent last year — has been proposed.
Some communities are considering a combination of a cost-of-living increase and merit raises.
In Lantana, commissioners are considering a cost-of-living raise of just about 1 percent and a merit raise of up to 5 percent.
In Delray Beach, commissioners are considering merit raises up to 5 percent while insurance premiums have dropped by about 5 percent for health, dental and vision coverage.
In Boynton Beach, police officers and employees covered by the Service Employees International Union could receive a 3 percent increase, while fire and rescue personnel and employees not covered by the union would receive a slightly lower increase under the proposed budget.
In Boca Raton, rather than put a squeeze on employee benefits, city officials propose adding 76 new full-time positions to their municipal workforce numbering 1,423.
The extra personnel will add $5.5 million for salaries and benefits to the city’s $392 million operating budget.
Boca Raton has scheduled public hearings on its proposed budget at 6 p.m. Sept. 12 and Sept. 26 in the City Council chambers at City Hall.