I sat with Dan Green the other day and had a good conversation about the County, public employees and much more. Dan (pictured above) is one of the new Kootenai County Commissioners , along with Jai Nelson, (not pictured) whom, during our discussion, he complimented for her focus and work ethic. These two, as well as new County Clerk Cliff Hayes, offer us in the public a much needed sense of hope.
The County will not raise taxes this year. They eliminated at least 12 underutilized positions. They combed through the budget and sliced out $800,000, but were saddened to discovered the state-mandated indigent care had been estimated at only half its real cost by the previous administration, so the new budget savings were obliterated this legal obligation officially called County Assistance. But they’re trying.
The Commissioners rearranged the medical insurance, saving the county $420,000 in what would have been new premium increases. To do this they required employees to pay more for their spouses but less for their children, because that’s what the statistics revealed as most cost effective. And they’re offering a health savings plan with incentives for improving lifestyle choices, which could save the county even more. The bottom line is that, for the first time in many years, the County’s medical insurance costs will not increase.
The Commissioners are not rubber stamping the “way things have always been done”, they are thinking, questioning and evaluating.
County employee salaries have been a big issue. Refuse raises? Give raises? They moved against any blanket answer and broke out sectors of the county’s 700 employees. Law enforcement will get some previously scheduled increases. Other department managers will get some money to give incentive raises to their most deserving workers, but not everyone.
While many of us citizens may not like any raises for public employees in this tight economy, and I am one of those citizens, at least the Commissioners are willing to shake things up, pursue alternative actions and give raises for actual performance.
County Clerk Cliff Hayes is involved both with the $70 million dollar budgeting process as well as the election system review now underway. (Cliff actually heads up 5 departments and the Commissioners oversee 18 departments.) I am relieved to know that someone is taking a close look at the legality of our voting system, because without confidence in the value of our vote, we will never regain trust in our government.
The honesty and integrity of these new elected officials at the County shows the power of the voting booth. On the flip side, our city of CdA is playing mind games. Elections are coming up this Nov. 8th, so let’s take a quick look at some recent revelations:
1. If you missed the editorial in last Sunday’s Press (link below) you should read the editor’s shock and amazement that the city bamboozled both the media and the public back in 2009 by announcing there would be no raises for city employees and then again in 2010 when they touted only a 1% raise rather than the typical 3%.
It turns out that the city DID give raises, much bigger raises, they just parsed their words to create a misleading image. Here’s what City Administrator Wendy Gabriel and her assistant Jon Ingalls wrote in 2009 on the city’s own web page, under the endearing title of “City Employees Give Back...” Wendy is quoted as saying, “... I cannot express adequately in words the gratitude and pride I feel about the employees’ decisions and the relief I have that this City will not be contributing to the economic crisis...”
They “gave back”? Is not getting a raise giving back? I don’t think they gave anything out of their wallets or even took a reduction in pay...that would be giving back! But remember, the CdA City Employees are a Union, the county is not.
The essence of this story is that the City was clearly misrepresenting the truth:
The City didn’t give full Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA), but they certainly did give raises in the form of “merit” pay. Merit pay at the City of CdA is an automatic 5% increase for anyone performing at “standard levels or above”. An employee gets this 5% raise, and I use that word deliberately, after working 1,2, 3,4,5,7 and 9 years.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like a city employee would get a total 25% pay increase in only 5 years! Just show up and do the “standard” for your job. And this calculation is without their annual 3% COLA, which would bring their overall raise to 40% in a typical 5 year period. But of course they didn’t get their full COLA in ’09 & ’10, so subtract that out and they’re at 35%. Are you making 35% more than you did 5 years ago?
In 2009 the City paid out $283,000 in “merit” pay raises. In 2010, they paid $280,000.
My info on merit pay comes directly from the City’s HR Director, Pam McDonald.
2. Much more briefly, let me remind you, if you didn’t notice, that NIC’s Board of Trustees voted last week to give Pres. Priscilla Bell (pictured above) a 3% pay increase plus a big boost in her retirement package. Dr. Bell had previously announced she is leaving the college at the end of this school year, but they gave her the raises anyway.
Back in 2010, there was a dust-up between NIC and the Press over the newspaper’s reporting of Dr. Bell’s raise and the full 3% tax increase voted that year by the board. Here’s an excerpt of Editor Mike Patrick’s opinion piece last year, when John Martin, PR guy for NIC was accusing the newspaper of “distorting facts and resorting to..."tabloid tactics." Perhaps because Priscilla was upset, John was upset that we listed the entirety of the president's compensation package, clearly indicating that it represents the total cost of her employment to taxpayers. Somehow he inferred that by doing so, we were suggesting Bell takes home all of that $240,000 and gets lots of goodies that other NIC employees do not. John - and Priscilla - it is what it is. Not only is every number on that list accurate and a matter of public record, but we reprinted it online exactly as the numbers were submitted to us, in writing, from NIC's finance office. We added nothing to it. We took nothing away from it.”
Oh, and last week the NIC board also voted to take the full 3% tax increase again. You and I are paying for all Priscilla’s goodies. The County will not be raising our taxes and even the City of CdA is not taking a tax increase this year. Elections have consequences. The next NIC Board of Trustee election is in November of 2012.
Have a happy Labor Day weekend! --Mary
August 2011 Press editorial on City Raises:
June 2010 Press editorial on Priscilla Bell’s raises: http://www.cdapress.com/opinion/editorial/article_dd318689-7edc-5b69-87f6-05ee1427b4ca.html