PORT MANATEE -- Against the backdrop of a balanced 2014-15 budget approved only minutes earlier, Manatee Port Authority Chairwoman Carol Whitmore started angling for a raise during Thursday's authority meeting.
The proposed raise wasn't for her. She wants the port's executive director, Carlos Buqueras, to earn more because she doesn't want him tempted to leave the port for a higher-paying job.
"I know he's getting calls to get recruited," she said. "Eventually, we're going to have to look at giving him a competitive salary."
The proposed raise was one of two unscheduled spending proposals Whitmore brought to the board Thursday. She also put board members on notice that she will likely ask for a budget amendment in the near future to hire a new marketing and sales professional for the port.
Budgeted to earn about $160,000 less in the coming budget cycle than in the current year, the port doesn't have extra money for salaries. It already cut back on wages and salaries during the current budget year, furloughing all port employees one day per month through this week after the port lost a major customer.
Operating revenues for the coming year are projected at $10.5 million, an estimate Whitmore and port budget director Denise Stufflebeam called "conservative." The port is projected to spend about $10.3 million under the new budget cycle, which begins Oct. 1.
Advocating for more personnel who can boost future port business, Whitmore said it is crucial to the port to keep Buqueras in his post and to hire an additional marketing professional. At present, Buqueras and the port's senior director of trade development and sales, Matty Appice, do all the port's marketing work.
Hired away from Port Everglades in 2011, Buqueras currently earns $189,000. Whitmore said this is far less than what Port Tampa Bay pays its director, Paul Anderson. Anderson's salary is $350,000. Buqueras' salary is also less than that paid to Raul Alfonso, Port Tampa Bay's chief commercial officer. He earns $219,000 a year.
Buqueras said he has not requested a raise, and Whitmore said Buqueras didn't know in advance his compensation would be discussed.
Already slated to spend a little more than $3 million on wages and salaries in the coming year, the port is at the bottom ebb of an administrative downsizing. The port has eliminated about half of its senior management positions in the past three years and has dropped its administrative salary expense from a high of about $1 million a year to $662,134 under the new budget.
Whitmore said extra marketing help is needed soon. She noted Buqueras makes all the port's overseas sales trips in Europe and South America, as well as doing some domestic marketing trips. The port has budgeted $75,000 for administrative and trade travel and lodging next year.
Recently, Whitmore said, Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad requested Buqueras spend more time in Tallahassee to discuss expanding Port Manatee. That additional time constraint could hamper the port's marketing efforts.
"We are going to need to bump up our marketing staff," Whitmore said.
While Buqueras did not address a potential raise for himself, he did support Whitmore's desire for more sales help. He said some Florida ports spend up to $1 million a year on marketing. Port Manatee spends about $80,000.
With revenues looking stable going into the coming budget year, he said planning for a bigger marketing staff and budget is a "common sense thing to do." Even though he was the architect of the recent administration cuts, Buqueras said it's time to put some of the savings into marketing.
"There's a point where saving money is not the only objective," Buqueras said. "You can only tighten your belt so much."
The port will realize some previously unanticipated revenue in the coming year. During Thursday's meeting, the port authority approved refinancing $3 million it owes from purchasing two heavy-lift cranes in 2010. The refinance drops the port's interest rate nearly 5 percent to 3.15, amounting to $120,000 in annual savings. Authority board member Robin DiSabitino suggested the extra money could go toward hiring a new marketing professional.
Whitmore is not proposing a budget amendment to give Buqueras a raise. She said this week's discussion was intended to put her fellow board members on notice Buqueras could seek a better salary elsewhere.
Board members generally agreed more marketing staff and better chief executive compensation are pressing items to be addressed in the future.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.