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City OKs one-time bonus for employees
Gainesvilles surplus higher than expected
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After years without a raise, employees of Gainesville government will get a little something next week for sticking out the bad economy.

City Council members on Tuesday approved a one-time payment of $1,000 to full-time employees. Employees who have worked at the city fewer than six months will get $500.

The checks were approved after council members learned that the city's surplus was higher than had been projected earlier this year.

Gainesville's Administrative Services Director Melody Marlowe said the city might have about $1.3 million more left over from the last fiscal year than the $1.9 million originally projected in the spring.

Much of the projected surplus — $500,000 — was used to beef up the city's reserve fund. Another $1.4 million will be used this year to pay for big ticket capital items.

But Marlowe said that when city officials closed the books on the last fiscal year, sales tax and municipal court fines came in at a combined $390,000 higher than budget projections.

City departments — mainly the police and fire departments — also spent about $780,000 less than had been anticipated.

The numbers haven't yet been audited and are not official, but they gave city officials enough faith in the financial padding to offer a one-time bonus to city employees who have borne the brunt of government cutbacks in the recession.

"We've been wanting to do something for employees for a long time," Mayor Ruth Bruner said. "This came up as a way to show that we appreciate them."

As the government has weathered a yearslong economic recession, city employees first lost a cost-of-living raise, a merit pay increase in 2007 and an annual bonus in 2008, according to Marlowe.

Employees then endured layoffs and eight months of once-monthly furloughs in 2009 and 2010.

The furloughs ended in July 2010.

The city also raised taxes in 2010, adding 0.26 mills to the rate city property owners pay to the government. The total tax rate for the city is $2.92 for each $1,000 in taxable property value, which is assessed at 100 percent.

The vote to reward employees was unanimous Tuesday.

But as properties countywide are expected to lose value in the coming year, Councilman George Wangemann said he did have concerns about approving the one-time check, which for all the employees totals $350,000.

"No. 1, it's a lot of money," Wangemann said. "I guess No. 2, these are hard economic times. Not too many governments are giving appreciations bonuses out."

But Wangemann consented to the payment once he learned it would not result in a tax increase for city property owners, he said.

The one-time checks will be issued to employees on Nov. 23, according to City Manager Kip Padgett.