Stress in workforce felt throughout Manatee County government

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker speaks during a Tuesday budget work session.
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker speaks during a Tuesday budget work session. caronson@bradenton.com

If a hurricane were to hit Manatee County, it would be questionable whether the already stressed Public Works Department workforce would be able to meet those unexpected demands, a county official said Tuesday.

“My concern is lack of surge capacity to meet unexpected demands,” Ron Schulhofer, county public works director, told commissioners during a budget work session Tuesday. “We don’t have the surge capacity and that’s what keeps me up at night.”

During Tropical Storm Colin from June 5-7, the department Stormwater Division issued 2,024 sandbags, according to Schulhofer. If it had been anything more than a “rain maker,” he said they may not be able to meet the necessary demands for long periods of time.

“It is very fragile how we are operating now,” he told commissioners. “Extremely fragile.”

Schulhofer said he’s not the only department director with a stressed workforce in Manatee County government. During the budget work session, directors with departments funded mostly by property taxes shared similar situations.

“We have the same conversations and we worry about the same things,” Schulhofer said.

The commission heard from different directors and their respective budget requests as part of the recommended $568 million budget for 2016-17. In September, the commission will adopt its budget in two public hearings.

“We are barely holding on with today’s demands,” said Charlie Hunsicker, county Parks and Natural Resources Department director.

Public Safety Department call volumes show crews routinely respond from one call to the next rather than having downtime during 24-hour shifts, said Bob Smith, public safety director.

“We are not adequately staffed to addressed those call volumes in EMS,” Smith said, adding 53 employees in May were held over for mandatory overtime.

While not requested by Smith, who said he will be bringing forward a lot of personnel requests in the 2018 budget, the commission elected to consider three additional float paramedics. The Marine Rescue and Animal Services Divisions face similar workforce stress, according to Smith.

“Public safety and welfare when people get picked up is No. 1,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said.

A new revenue source such as an infrastructure sales tax will allow the county to “take care of capital needs in order to stop drain on operating budget,” County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said.

“I think if the public tells us they don’t want an additional revenue then you are back to cutting or raising taxes but you can’t raise property taxes enough to fund the problem you have in your capital budget,” he said.

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson