by Christine Keller
November 16, 2011
Some of you may have heard that the 5% raise for Washington County employees passed the quorum court’s budget committee last night. Some of us tea partiers were there to observe the meeting. As you might expect, the normally almost empty room was jammed with county employees, standing room only and spilling out into the hallway. Of course, everyone wants a raise. Most of us are struggling to make ends meet. The committee chair began the meeting by announcing to the employees standing there that they were going to pass a raise–no question about it.
The discussion then began, with each jp (justice of the peace) given a chance to speak. Different numbers were given out as to how much surplus the county has. By state law, the proposed county budgets for the year can only be 90% of the projected revenues. This is designed to avoid unexpected emergencies. The “surplus” is actually projected, not sitting in a bank account waiting to be spent, according to our understanding of what the comptroller’s office told us. While there was a $17 million projected surplus earlier in the year, it is actually closer to just under $7 million now when you include projected expenditures (5.7 million when the pay raise passes). That means the county has already dipped into expected surplus funds. Spending is the problem at all levels of government, it appears.
The following list of pay raise proposals was in a handout given to attendees at the meeting:
Rate of Increase Amount
$0.50 per hour 784,711.00
$0.50 per hour + 2% 1,302,423.00
$0.75 per hour 1,107,326.00
$0.75 per hour + 2% 1,625,038.00
$1.00 per hour 1,429,942.00
$1.00 per hour + 2% 1,947,654.00
Employees will see a reduction of 2% in their take home pay beginning January 1, 2012 due to changes in FICA.
Current proposal: 5% salary increase 1,085,060.00
plus $20 per month insurance increase 144,960.00
The debate went back and forth between those who thought per-hour increases were more fair and those who thought percent increases were more fair.
Conservative Rex Bailey proposed some kind of bonus instead of locking the county into any increased expense. He argued that once salaries are raised, it will be difficult or impossible to cut them, and then some of the same people they are trying to help will end up being laid off. He stated that the county is already overspending by about $8 million–$9 million if this raise passes–and that money will have to come out of reserves. He correctly pointed out that spending needs to be cut.
Someone rebutted the bonus proposal by saying that bonus payments cost the county one third of the amount of the bonuses in costs. Tom Lundstrum answered that raises have the same costs associated with them, so that is beside the point. Tom Lundstrum, Rex Bailey, and Rick Cochran all pointed out that employees have already had a tax-free raise, in effect, because the court already voted a few months back to cover the increased cost of their health insurance premiums.
There was a discussion about the coroner’s salary. Some on the court wanted to bring the Washington County coroner’s salary in line with other coroners in the state by giving him a $16,000 raise. Others said there is no reason elected officials need to be paid so much. The point was made about the difficulties/training involved for the job. Tom Lundstrum made the point that even if we kept the coroner’s salary the same, at least one person would still run for that elected position next year. In the end, a proposal to give the coroner a 25% raise passed (closer to $10,000).
Some facts presented during the meeting:
*Currently, employees receive bonuses for length of service as follows: after 5 years of service–$250, which is received every year and increased by $100 for each 5 years of service until it caps at $750 per year after 30 years of service. The bonuses are given out towards the end of the year.
*The median income for Washington County employees is $30,908 (not including benefits).
*15 employees earn more than $50,000.00
*5 employees earn more than $60,000.00
*The recently passed millage decrease doesn’t take effect until 2013, so that tax cut does not affect the 2012 budget currently being discussed.
Two motions were made–one for a 60-cent per hour raise, and another for a 75-cent per hour raise. The members were evenly divided on both of those, which means they did not pass. The only thing left on the table was the 5% raise, which then did pass. The 5% raise does not become law until the full quorum court votes on it at the December 8 meeting. It is customary that when something passes a committee, it also passes the full quorum court.
We encourage people to get involved, contact your jp’s, attend meetings, and find out how your money is being spent. Your jp’s work for you. We continue to stand for limited government, lower taxes, less spending, and less debt. Public pressure to cut spending is always needed. The quorum court schedule of meetings and contact information is always on our web site here: http://www.washingtoncountyteaparty.com/?q=local-issues. The committee meetings are where the real business of the quorum court is conducted.
As a separate issue, one of our board members attended the Fayetteville City Council meeting last night as well. One item on the agenda under the “unfinished business” category (from the November 1, 2011 meeting) was a proposal for a parking revenue improvement bond. When you see the word “bond,” think “debt.” This is the way it was worded on the agenda: “An ordinance authorizing the issuance and sale of not to exceed $6,500,000 of Parking Revenue Improvement Bonds by the City of Fayetteville, Arkansas for the purpose of financing all or a portion of the costs of acquisition, construction and equipping of a parking deck facility, authorizing the execution and delivery of a trust indenture pursuant to which the bonds will be issued and secured; authorizing the execution and delivery of an official statement pursuant to which the bonds will be offered; authorizing the execution and delivery of a continuing disclosure agreement; and prescribing other matters relating thereto.”
A speaker was there, of course, to speak in favor of more debt. Of course, he said that they want this authorization “just in case” they get into the project and find they need it. How likely is it that the money will not be borrowed if they are authorized to borrow it?