Hunzeker to commission: Money top reason employees leave Manatee County government

MANATEE -- With noncompetitive pay programs and an aging workforce, Manatee County government may soon be in a pickle.

Between 2016 and 2020, the county may have to replace up to 73 percent of its employees because of retirement and turnover, according to county data, yet the pool of available applicants is shrinking.

"We are competing for new talent on an ongoing basis, and we are competing in a shrinking talent pool," Rodney Barnes, county human resources director, said at Tuesday's commission work session. "We are having to cast a wider net. We are bringing in folks from other areas to be able to bring in talent because everyone is fishing from the same pond. There aren't enough fish in the pond to satisfy all our needs."

While Manatee County is not alone, the county's average

weekly salary of $880 for its approximately 1,700 employees lags behind neighboring counties. Sarasota County has an average weekly salary of $1,030, Hillsborough County is at $1,051 and Pinellas County's is $936.

"Surrounding counties have similar workforce needs," Barnes said. "They are fishing in our pond and pulling our workforce out of our county into their county."

Every week County Administrator Ed Hunzeker reads the separation surveys outgoing employees fill out before they leave the county. Hunzeker said the main reason employees leave is money.

"They will come in, but as soon as someone offers them money, they are out the door," he said. "We are a low pay organization. Our benefit package is very good. That would keep people here but you can't take benefits to the grocery store."

New workers are demanding more pay and benefits than the county now pays, Jim Chesnutt, the county human resources division manager, said, adding it is difficult to pay new hires up to midpoint when many tenured employees are still in the low range.

"The needs and wants of the millennial replacement workforce is different than the current retirees," Chesnutt said. "We have difficulty in attracting and retaining these workers. The speed of change and demand for workers with new skills is overwhelming the workforce right now."

As more businesses move to Manatee County, the county is competing locally for talent, Chesnutt said. Among the industries the county is competing in includes IT professionals, engineering professionals, skilled trades, drivers, nurses and other medical staff.

"Industry is heating up in the things we have high turnover in," Chesnutt said.

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino called the county's success in bringing the companies here a "double-edged sword."

"We are a product of our success," she said.

The consultant Evergreen is comparing the county pay plan with the market and will bring back its findings to the county in July. Evergreen completed a similar study in 2008, Hunzeker said.

Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said competition is a big factor and the data are "eye-opening."

"We have problems that are going to affect our ability to get and keep employees," Benac said.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said it is time for the county to look out for its employees.

"We need to stand by them," Baugh said. "The benefits are great, but that's not going to put meat on the table."

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at caronson@bradenton.com. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.