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Aldermen send wrong message in pay raise plan

Even on Dec. 25, gifts won’t be found under the tree for everybody.

     Some Brookhaven aldermen, though, apparently see themselves as summertime Santas and plan to slide down the chimney with 2 percent pay raises for city employees in the new-year budget.

     “They know it’s budget time and they’re expecting something,” said Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron in likening pay raises for city employees to Christmas presents for family and friends.

     Given the tough economic conditions everyone is facing, it may be time for city leaders to personify a little less Santa and, dare we say, just a bit more Scrooge.

     Consider that Lincoln County’s jobless rate for June was reported at 9.8 percent last week. That’s almost one in 10 people in this community who do not even have a job, much less the opportunity to worry about a pay raise.

     And a reader also pointed out in a recent letter to the editor that, until just recently, he went three years without an increase in his Social Security cost of living adjustment. He did not have a government gift-giver upping his present and had to make do with what he got.

     While the overall personnel-services percentage of the city’s general fund budget is down due to a number of factors, the actual dollar amount of those services has risen more than 8.8 percent between fiscal year 2010, the first budget year for this administration, and what aldermen are planning for the next fiscal year that starts in October. According to General Fund budget totals, personnel-service costs have gone from just over $6 million in 2009-10 to a projected $6.82 million next year.

     Personnel services costs include actual pay, insurance and retirement match contributions, and some other items.

     Some increase in personnel services costs is not unexpected, but how those costs are driven up presents some cause for concern.

     To continue the holiday metaphor, aldermen most often have avoided any consideration of who’s been “naughty or nice” and have given pay raises across the board to city employees. Occasionally at other times, aldermen have given raises for changes in job duties and some merit considerations.

     For the most part, though, the way some aldermen would like to hand out “gift” pay raise provides no incentive for employees to work harder or do more, but it does give incentive to those city workers to vote for Santa come election time.

     If the private sector’s way of doing things were practiced, then instead of “expecting” something from aldermen, motivated employees could demonstrate their value to the city and have it recognized in the form of a more substantial pay increase. Those who remain unmotivated could continue to provide the same level of service they always have, but also risk joining the ranks of those in the unemployment line.

     Another aspect to consider is the impact pay raises for general fund-paid employees, like those in the Street, Fire or Police departments, have on Water and Sewer and Solid Waste department operations.

     In aldermen’s minds, Water and Sewer and Solid Waste departments’ employees can’t be left out of pay raise plans. However, operations in those departments – including personnel costs – must be paid for with revenue generated from user fees.

     Raising fees a little each year, instead of a major increase at one time, represents a prudent move by aldermen. But rightly or wrongly, the perception remains in the public’s mind that the $1.50 per month hike in water, sewer and solid waste services is in some way connected to the pay raises.

     Certainly, everyone would like a pay raise every year, and no doubt many city employees are deserving.

     However, aldermen would do well to remember that the money they use to pay for employee pay raise “presents,” as well the vast array of other city functions, comes from citizens, many of whom haven’t seen a raise themselves in years. Across-the-board pay raises send the wrong message no matter what time of the year it is.