Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

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Opinion

July 24, 2013

OUR VIEW: Council bonus plan out of touch with economic reality

GLASGOW — Councilman Joe Trigg said Monday night that he didn’t like surprises. He wasn’t the only person caught flat-footed by fellow Councilman Wendell Honeycutt’s proposal to give a significant number of city employees a one-time bonus because they’ve “been doing more with less” since 2010.

We challenge the seven council members who voted on first reading in favor of the bonuses to find a business or institution in this community that hasn’t been doing more with less since 2008. Nearly every business and institution has been forced to cut personnel, reduce working hours, eliminate shifts, freeze hiring, freeze wages, reduce compensation or introduce furloughs. None of these difficult and painful steps taken in the private sector have been easy and it had the effect of reducing city employment tax revenue streams. Yet those reductions didn’t slow the city down much as years of approving deficit budgets have nearly dried up the rainy day fund.

While the rest of the community and state has endured painful moves to reduce compensation expense— usually the biggest line on any budget — city employees picked up a modest raise in 2011 and now, with the plan put forward by Councilman Honeycutt, a $500 bonus for their part of  “doing more with less”— tightening the belt of city expenses.

It’s our view that belt-tightening should have been deeper all along — five years ago, even 10 years ago. The city budget grew accustomed to the good times and the influx of employment tax revenue and when double-digit unemployment hit in 2008, it was past time to tighten up. Every business in town was tightening up as a matter of good business, and in some cases, of survival. Not many had a rainy day fund to tap to avoid the economic storms that were at hand in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

As economic recovery just starts to shine on our community, we have a tremendous opportunity to make adjustments now to better serve us down the road. As a city many of the tough decisions were avoided because we spent down our reserves. Now, at the first positive sign in five years, we’re ready to throw a party and pay everybody who is on the job a bonus? Come on.

Who is the council working for, the city employees or the taxpayers of the city who fund the salaries, the programming and the infrastructure that make up our community?

Please understand, it’s our view we have terrific city employees and managers on most every level who do some good work. They didn’t ask for this and they absolutely deserve a secure financial foundation to assure that benefits like health insurance and retirement can be fully funded if the economic storms roll back in, but this one-time windfall doesn’t help with that notion.

When people say “it’s not the money, it’s the principle” it usually is about the money. In this case, it is about both. Granted, $100,000 is not a large drop in the large bucket that is the city budget, but it is a large amount to provide as reward for doing what needed to be done. And on principle it may be a nice thought, but it’s the wrong thing to do in the face of economic conditions where many in our community still find it difficult to get traction.

This is the wrong move.

The council members who supported this (Honeycutt, Freddie Norris, Harold Armstrong, James Neal, Marlin Witcher and Brad Groce) need to re-consider on second reading after hearing from a shocked and outraged community of taxpayers. And we hope there are affirmations of support to Trigg and Dick Doty, the two who had the courage and wisdom to oppose this surprise move. (Karalee Oldenkamp abstained from a voice vote.) Like Councilman Trigg — we don’t like surprises like this.

It’s bad policy, bad timing and a bad idea.

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