MARATHON CITY COUNCIL SQUARES OFF WITH STAFF OVER BUDGETED RAISES

Dozens of city staff filled the Marathon council chambers on Sept. 12, offering applause and occasional outbursts throughout the council’s discussion on budgeted staff raises. ALEX RICKERT/Keys Weekly

A crowd of around 40 Marathon city employees irate with the City Council’s recent comments on proposed staff raises in the city’s 2023-24 budget filled the council chambers on Tuesday night, kicking off the panel’s renewed budget talks on Sept. 12 with a tense exchange.

Referencing a nearly 30-page packet distributed to council members detailing salaries and expenses of many city staff in relation to household survival and stability budgets for Monroe County published by United Way, Public Works Manager Jim Griffith spoke on behalf of gathered workers in a sharp address to the council. In the crosshairs were comments from the council’s Aug. 22 budget workshop, in which a proposed 9.6% cost of living increase for all staff was tentatively reduced to 6.9%.

“You like to use terms like CPI, regional trends and the Wall Street Journal,” he said, describing the plight of several city workers whose salaries are not low enough to qualify for assistance programs, but aren’t high enough to comfortably cover Keys expenses. “I don’t recall anywhere in the city of Marathon … a street named Wall … so I don’t know what that has to do with anything.

“The numbers that are coming up are ludicrous, or as (councilman Jeff Smith) would like to say, ‘It’s insane to pay that much money,’ or as you’d like to say, councilman (Kenny) Matlock, ‘nobody’s struggling to live here.’”

The targeted remarks drew a fiery response from Matlock, who took exception with Griffith’s characterization of his thoughts on the raises. As first quoted in the Aug. 24 edition of the Weekly, Matlock’s remarks only referenced “some of the salaries” in the city “well past six figures” and advocated for a “graduated scale” in increases, with lower-paid employees eligible for more significant bumps.

Vocal jabs from the gathered staff continued throughout Smith’s response, who argued for continued use of statistics and analysis of city salaries against comparable positions elsewhere.

“I’m a data guy,” he said. “I agree we have to support our people, and that’s why I asked for a salary survey. … Let’s look at our salary ranges and what’s comparable, because I do want to be fair, but I also have to be fair to the taxpayers.

“There’s a balance we have to have, and that balance is looking at price ranges. It’s not across the board. I’m sorry, but if you’re making $200,000 and I’m giving you 20% over two years, that’s exorbitant. However, I do agree that if I’m making 40 (thousand), I probably have to look at that.”

Councilman Lynn Landry similarly backed a salary survey as a mechanism to individually adjust salaries, while Vice Mayor Robyn Still and Mayor Luis Gonzalez argued strongly for significant raises across the board, with Gonzalez comparing the importance of staff raises against taxpayer dollars used for other purposes like Fishermen’s Hospital and nonprofit grants re-initiated by the city in 2023.

The council gave a unanimous first approval to Finance Director Jennifer Johnson’s updated budget with the 6.9% increase, with a final hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 5:05 p.m. at City Hall. Down from the originally-proposed rate of $2.72 mills at the direction of the council – $2.72 paid per $1,000 of assessed property value – the updated budget assesses the rollback rate from 2022-23 of 2.4477 mills, raising around $9.8 million in revenues for Marathon’s general fund. 

The city’s projected revenues are roughly $20.8 million for fiscal year 2024, with budgeted expenses of $20.5 million. As Johnson explained, the drop in millage from the last meeting will result in roughly $300,000 in reserves added to Marathon’s general fund, down from the $1 million in originally budgeted additions.

For additional meeting coverage, please see the Sept. 21 issue of the Marathon Weekly.

Click the links to watch recordings of Marathon’s Aug. 22 and Sept. 12 budget discussions:

AUG. 22 LINK:  https://cloud.castus.tv/vod/city-of-marathon/video/64e74f90c4a47df616539707?page=HOME

SEPT. 12 LINK: https://cloud.castus.tv/vod/city-of-marathon/video/6501af9660da120f62ab1a27?page=HOME

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.