TALLAHASSEE – What’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander when it comes to the minimum wage in Leon County, according to local city and county commissioners.
During an April 25th budget workshop, the Leon County Board of County Commissioners unanimously gave preliminary approval to a proposal to raise the minimum wage of full-time Leon County employees from $9.14 per hour to $12 per hour as part of the proposed tentative FY 2017-2018 budget. While still tentative, Leon County’s proposed “living wage” would increase the hourly salary of 99 of the county’s 850 employees and would mean no new county employee would be hired for less than that new hourly rate.
Although county commissioners support the new minimum wage for county employees, many county and city commissioners do not necessarily believe calling for a mandated federal minimum wage of $12 per hour would be good for private businesses in Leon County.
County Commissioner Mary Ann Lindley said she was fully supportive of raising the wage for county employees. “$9.14 is not a living wage. Many of our employees working at the lowest paid grade were living on food stamps and loan-shark loans. These are our storm cleanup workers, ditch diggers, construction flagmen, maintenance, garbage men. This is hard, physical work and when push comes to shove we expect them to be there for us in the middle of the night or whenever needed,” she explained.
“It was time to get with it,” she said.
On the other hand, Lindley said she would not support raising the minimum wage for private businesses.
“Small businesses cannot afford it and they don’t have the flexibility (to raise it). Many would have to lay off workers or move more to part-time,” Lindley said. “It is easy for politicians to advocate for an increased minimum wage (for private business), but it’s hard to balance that with how it affects small business. I believe it would kill small business.”
City Commissioner Curtis Richardson said, “I applaud the county for taking this step (to raise the minimum wage). I would like the city to follow suit.”
He supports a federally mandated raise in the hourly rate to a “living wage” but would not want local governments to dictate wages to private business.
City Commissioner Gil Ziffer said raising the minimum wage is not an issue for the city right now and nothing has come before the board. He said he would not comment on the actions of the county. “I try not to comment on what they do and hope they will do the same,” he said.
Ziffer said he would not call for local businesses to increase the minimum wage. “I’m not going there. It is set up by a higher power, the federal government. I believe it should be up to the individual business and the relationship it has with its employees.”
County Commissioner Bryan Desloge said, “I support it for employees of the county. We have one of the lowest per constituent headcounts and budgets in the state, so I’m a big believer that you pay people what they are worth. In fact, if we are a little better than average that puts us in an enviable position as an employer. You lead by example.”
However, he continued, “I am not a fan of imposing that type of logic on other businesses or other than those within the four walls we manage. My experience as a business owner has been you pay people a little better than the average, you find you have a higher caliber of employees and a lot less turnover. For us, I think it was the right thing, but by no means am I thinking this is the kind of thing we would impose on others.”
One local representative who appears to support local government control over the minimum wage paid by private local businesses is Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Gillum recently founded the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, an initiative which, according to its website, is a non-partisan, grassroots coalition of local mayors, commissioners, and community leaders. It pushes for “local solutions to local problems,” such as banning smoking, protecting the environment, preventing gun violence and raising the minimum wage.
Tallahassee Reports reached out for clarification from Gillum on whether this means he supports taking the issue of minimum wage away from the federal government and letting local governments set the minimum wage and whether he would like to increase the minimum wage paid by private businesses in Tallahassee. He was not available for comment.
The “living wage” is a market-based approach which draws upon geographically specific expenditure data related to likely minimum food, health insurance, housing, transportation, and other basic necessities costs.
Leon County’s living wage analysis was modeled after the MIT Living Wage Calculator as well as peer analysis of other Florida counties. The fiscal impact of establishing the living wage, according to Leon County officials, will be about $135,000.
Final approval for the minimum wage increase for Leon County employees will be part of the final FY 2017-2018 budget vote in September. The county will host another budget workshop on June 20.