Pay raises send wrong message in hard economy

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, September 5, 2010

The point is not the raises, but the message they send.

Brookhaven aldermen and the mayor are making plans for 5 percentpay raises for all city employees, including themselves, in the newbudget.

In the difficult economy we are in now, Monday’s holiday will seemany everyday citizens just thankful these days to have labor to doto help them pay bills and make ends meet. They certainly wouldlike a raise, but an unscientific online poll last week indicated92 percent of more than 200 respondents had not received one latelyand are not expecting one in the near future.

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Against that backdrop, city leaders are sending the message thatthey are raising the costs of government that their constituents -members of a larger increasingly “forgotten” part of society – areasked to support through property taxes, fees and othercosts.

Once approved, raises become an ongoing part of future budgets.Unemployment totals, foreclosure notices and other economicindicators of an extended recessionary period suggest now is notthe time for increasing pressure to meet spending obligations inthe years ahead.

Faced with economic uncertainty, many private business owners arenot boosting payrolls and are in fact doing everything they can toreduce operating expenses. When those efforts result in layoffs orless money due to fewer hours of work, the ripple effect is anincreased struggle on impacted workers to pay tax bills and otherobligations.

The overall lack of confidence – be it businesses or consumers – isa big reason the road to economy recovery has been so elusive. Andwrongheaded government initiatives, regardless of whether they areat the local, state or national level, do little to make therecovery path easier to find.

Pay raises in and of themselves are not a bad thing.

However, an across the board approach – as city leaders have taken- represents an easy response to a hard subject. Perhaps targetedpay raises for skilled labor positions would have been moreappropriate and fair.

Like their private industry counterparts, public officials pursuingefforts to lower expenses and maximize use of available dollarsrepresents a fiscally prudent course. Opting for ill-advised acrossthe board pay raises detracts from that necessary goal.