Pay raise was nice, but now Manatee County officials are taking it back

skennedy@bradenton.comJuly 11, 2014 

Donny Combs, a tree-trimmer for the county, is paying back more than $600 after an error in the process of awarding promotions and corresponding pay raises. PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

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MANATEE -- Over a year's time, Manatee County landscaper Donny Combs thought he had completed requirements for promotion and corresponding pay raises, and he was pleased to collect 95 cents per hour more as a result.

"It was good," said Combs, 44, of Bradenton, who trims trees for the county parks and natural resources department.

But an error in the process of awarding promotions to Combs and 24 others resulted in an overpayment of $11,922.06, which the workers now are required to pay back, according to county

spokesman Nick Azzara.

"In June, they came back and said they want the money back, and took the pay raise away," Combs said Thursday.

Now he's required to pay back more than $600.

County officials gave him options of repaying via cash deductions or with vacation time.

"They allowed us to use vacation time if we could not afford cash -- which I can't because I have two small kids -- and I have to pay day care for the kids," said Combs.

"It actually cost me money," he said of the snafu. "So it'll be several months before I get a vacation day again."

The maintenance workers were erroneously given promotions before they had met all of the requirements to earn them, according to a July 2 memo written by interim Human Resources Department Director Julie Bassett.

The error occurred in connection with a program called the Maintenance Career Ladder Program, which called for employees to meet certain requirements over a specific period of time.

"Unfortunately, this resulted in overpayment to these employees, some as far back as November 2013," Bassett stated.

Effective May 31, pay rates were corrected.

To repay, each worker could choose allowing cash deductions over a few pay periods, or sacrificing equivalent hours of vacation, comp time or personal holidays, the memo said.

"They chose the option to best meet their situation and needs," Bassett wrote.

"Payroll has been instructed to make these deductions as agreed upon," beginning June 28 and continuing until the funds are paid back, Bassett wrote.

A new director of human resources, Rodney Barnes, starts Aug. 4.

Azzara acknowledged the episode constituted a "tough pill" for hard-working employees.

"But understand, these are public assets," he said, noting that taxpayers should not be asked to pay for the error.

Meanwhile, the rules have been clarified for those who had incorrectly interpreted the program.

The matter has left a sour residue in the mouths of those coughing up back payments, said Combs.

"Everybody's mad," he said. "Everybody is still angry because they said they'd allow us to do the training to get our money back, but we haven't been given the opportunity to get our raises back -- they're not offering that training now.

"They're not scheduling the training that we need, so it's still simmering," Combs said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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