Give them the money | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Give them the money

Posted By on Tue, Oct 13, 2009 at 2:08 PM

Members of the Pulaski County Quorum Court's Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously today to give themselves -- and all other county employees -- a 4 percent pay bonus. It will go to a full Quorum Court vote Oct. 27. Sometime after, these same part-time elected officials will consider whether to give themselves -- and other county employees -- a 5 percent pay raise to start the new year. If they take both, you're talking $2.5 million in taxpayer money and a total of 17 percent in pay boosts over a two-year period for the members of the Quorum Court and most county employees.

The hard times and decreased tax revenues that are plaguing businesses public and private are of no apparent concern to the Quorum Court, which wants its money. Sometime later they'll worry about zoning officials and enough jailers to staff a jail sufficient to keep crooks off the streets. Said JP Phil Stowers, "The taxpayers of Pulaski County need to realize what's going on.  I am hoping  that mayors, police chiefs, and circuit and district court judges in Pulaski county will stand with me.  The way it looks at this point, myself and Doug Reed will probably be the only no votes and the only ones to vote to exclude the QC members."

I've written a column about this for this week. It's on the jump. I don't expect it to accomplish much with the JPs.

Pulaski gold rush

The Pulaski County Quorum Court is weighing up to 9 percent in pay increases for themselves and the other 1,200 or so county employees.

The timing isn’t good. Sales tax revenues are down and property values are stagnant. Most businesses and governments are cutting jobs and pay.

And, still, the Quorum Court is considering a 4 percent bonus for itself and other employees now and then a pay raise of up to 5 percent for itself and others at the first of next year. Total cost could be $2.5 million.

This is on the heels of an 8 percent pay boost  for county employees in 2008  – the sum of a 5 percent pay raise and a 3 percent bonus. Give them 4 percent this year and 5 percent to start 2010 and you’re looking at 17 percent in pay enhancements over a 24-month period.

The argument is that county employees suffered through some lean years. They got  a 4 percent raise in 2005, nothing in 2006, 3 percent in 2007 and 8 percent in 2008. County employees do enjoy good benefits – 12 days of paid sick leave every year, 10 days of paid vacation after six months on the job, 11  paid holidays and FREE health insurance (employee only), a tax-free benefit worth about $5,000.

Supporters of the pay raise say employees have been working extra hard to make up for vacancies. But the vacancies tend to be clustered in certain areas. About half are at the sheriff’s office and jail. So we reward overworked jailers and deputies by giving elected, part-time Quorum Court members the same pay raise? Why not raise jailer pay significantly? Or hire more jailers? And, better still, why not keep accumulating cash to open more jail beds?

It seems cold to oppose a pay increase. The chief deputy clerk complains that average pay in his office is only $28,500. That’s not a king’s ransom. Federal statistics show, however, that it’s in line with pay for similar jobs in the metro area. It’s almost the minimum state starting pay for certified public school teachers. It’s more, cough, than many newspaper reporters make. But job security is worth something. Ask a laid-off reporter.

There’s little evidence of significant loss of county employees to other businesses – a nurse or two at the jail, maybe, and the occasional skilled office worker. There’s little evidence either, that the county has given any thought to whether it has created too many jobs to begin with (law enforcement is an obvious exception). It might be that county employees are underpaid. But more evidence is needed. We do know the county is short-changing vital areas. Its leaders say, basically, that taxpayers can afford bonuses but not zoning or more jailers and patrol deputies.

Justice of the Peace Phil Stowers, a fiscally conservative Republican, is on target. He’s open to a salary increase. “I am generally supportive of reasonable and fact-based cost of living raises,” he told me.  “They allow us to attract and retain a stable workforce.  What is being proposed is more than $1 million dollars in non-incentive based, one time bonuses.  I believe if we pass this we will be found derelict in our duty in the court of public opinion…”

Raising pay twice in three months on a one-size-fits-all basis, beginning with elected officials, is -- along with deficit spending and poor services – the sort of thing that has made voters cold historically to county tax increases. Public opinion does count.

 

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