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Manatee County government employees bolting for more money

MANATEE -- Many of the county’s best and brightest employees are leaving government to take higher-paying private sector jobs, since they have not gotten raises over four years’ time, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said Tuesday.

“I expect this trend to continue in 2012 and beyond, until there is adequate funding to provide pay for performance salary adjustments that reward hard work and dedication,” he said as he delivered his 2011 Annual Report to the Manatee County Commission.

Hunzeker did not provide examples of employees who have left the county.

Hunzeker said that the county’s “greatest strength” is its approximately 1,600 employees, and if it wants to continue as an employer of choice, it cannot fall behind private employers offering more competitive salaries.

He termed 2011 “a very difficult year for our community, and for county government,” noting that by year’s end unemployment was still above 10 percent, and the recession had dried up county revenues.

“After a series of public budget workshops, the board adopted an annual budget that is $22 million less than the prior year, including a $7 million reduction in property taxes, bringing the total amount reduced to nearly $140 million since 2007,” Hunzeker said.

However, the budget reduction was done carefully, in order to avoid major service interruptions or harming the county’s strong bond ratings, he said.

Other highlights of the year included:

n Signs of economic recovery, with the tourism industry enjoying a banner year: Visitation increased 5.3 percent, resulting in $430 million flowing into the local economy, Hunzeker said.

n Dedication of Fort Hamer Rowing Park, near Parrish; the opening of Bunker Hill Park, in rural Duette, a joint venture between the county and Mosaic Fertilizer LLC; and dedication of the new Rocky Bluff Branch Library, at Ellenton.

n The county’s new beach concession vendor, United Parks Services, broke the $3 million gross revenue mark in its first year of operations, resulting in more than $369,000 in revenue for the county.

In other business, commissioners:

n OK’d an agreement with Tropicana Products Inc. to provide a staging area in the event of disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado.

The county signed a free lease agreement with the Bradenton company, which would provide 20,000 feet of space in a covered warehouse, along with parking lots and other equipment, for the use of Manatee County Emergency Management, according to Laurie Feagans, the county’s emergency management chief.

She said Tropicana had been “a really good partner with us,” and that its location at 1000 13th Ave. E. was an ideal, secure facility.

n Discussed possible road improvements to Seventh Street and the U.S. 301 corridor in Palmetto, in relation to its upgrade of the Manatee County Civic Center.

OK’d a motion by Commissioner Michael Gallen to add two bills to its legislative agenda that would promote public access to outdoor facilities on school property.

n Set public hearing dates on a request to extend the Wingate Creek phosphate mine over 661 acres of East Manatee. The board set April 12 for a Planning Commission hearing, and May 3 for consideration by the county commission.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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