BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County government employees make about $12,600 (or 41 percent) more than their private-sector counterparts, according to new state data.
The average salary of the 949 employees who work for the county and city of Brooksville (including the elected constitutional officers) is $42,970 annually. That compares to $30,357 for the nongovernment, private sector employees.
Those numbers exclude 634 law enforcement workers who make an average $42,946.
The gap between private and public workers in Hernando County is larger than the state, which pays government workers $51,113 and its private sector employees $42,446.
The gap also is larger than neighboring Pasco County, where government employees average $40,654 to the private sector's $32,750.
"Government service is an important part of our economy here and accounts for nearly $41 million in payroll each year," said David Hamilton, operations manager for the Pasco-Hernando Workforce Board. "I don't have any explanation why we have the disparity in wage levels in government versus the private sector."
Hernando County statistics are widely different from nearby Citrus County, which shares much the same population and demographic statistics.
In Citrus County, government employees average $32,316 annually, which is less than the private-sector employee who averages $35,354.
Hamilton said he could not explain the turnaround there.
The data was part of the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data released two weeks ago by the state.
County Commission Chairman Dave Russell was surprised by the large disparity in private versus public sector salaries and attributes it to exorbitant pay hikes given out prior to 2006 - mostly to mid- and upper-level managers - as a result of a consultant's study that purportedly showed government salaries were out of kilter with other counties.
Russell said Hernando County is still paying for that and, unfortunately for all employees, there is no money in the budget to grant any raises at this time.
"That's not to say people are not deserving of it but, quite frankly, the money's not there," Russell said.
The QCEW report also revealed the average Hernando County salaries for the following job classifications:
Teachers and education (3,089 employees): $36,279
Retail employees (6,752 employees): $23,159
Health and Social Service (7,250 employees): $42,494
Food services, including restaurant and bar workers (4,308 employees who are mostly part-time and rely heavily on tips): $14,282
Southwest Florida Water Management District (362 employees): $60,957
v vHernando County Human Resources prepared a separate report for Hernando Today that breaks out only its own 734 employees and does not include the city of Brooksville.
Of the 734 employees in county government, 21 work part-time. Overall, 253 county workers (about 33 percent) fall within the $25,000-to-$40,000 range, the county report shows.
The salaries include the lowest-paid employees, library pages who make the minimum wage of $7.70-per-hour, to County Administrator Len Sossamon, who makes $125,000 annually and is the highest-paid government worker.
The last time county employees received a salary increase was October 2008, and that was for 2 percent, Director of Administrative Services Cheryl Marsden said. Those same employees (including supervisors) got a 3-percent raise in October 2007, Marsden said.
Teamsters Local Union 79, which represents about 400 county employees, recently reopened contract negotiations with Hernando County to revisit wages and health insurance.
Those negotiations continue and should play a part during the budget sessions, which will start heating up this summer.
Gus Guadagnino, who straddles both sides of the public-private sector fence as president of Joni Industries and as a school board member, said he did not anticipate the wage gap to be quite so large.
Like other employers, Guadagnino said he's had to do whatever it takes to stay afloat during until the economy improves and that included one layoff and cutting one employee to part-time status.
Being in a survival mode, Guadagnino said he has not been able to hand out raises in years to his staff, which now numbers 8-10.
However, Guadagnino said he believes teachers should get more money because of the demands of their work.
Unlike a private sector worker, who typically works 40-hour weeks and goes home at 5 p.m. and forgets about the job, teachers take their work home with them most every day and must adhere to state mandates that pile on even more work, he said.
"They deserve to get a raise," he said.
Based on property value estimates and submitted constitutional budgets, Hernando County is expecting a $9.5 million deficit heading into budget talks, Russell said.
Some elected officials included salary hikes for their employees in their budget requests, and Russell said those will not fly given the circumstances.
"It's very difficult to pass out raises when you have that kind of deficit," he said.
To see how much money each county and city employee makes, visit the Hernando Today salary database at www.hernando today.com, click under "News" and click on government salaries.