What were the Curry County commissioners thinking?
That is the question after commissioners decided unanimously Monday to give themselves and county employees a 2.8 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA).
What elected official would take any type of pay increase when the county is on the brink of bankruptcy?
We’re still on the brink, right?
Last we heard the county still doesn’t have enough money to pay for 24-hour sheriff’s patrol coverage. The jail is in desperate need of repairs. The county has taken more than $2 million from its road fund to bolster its general fund.
The county has floated several property tax measures in an attempt to raise much-needed revenue. They all failed.
Did some unexpected money suddenly fall from the sky? If so, shouldn’t any extra money — real or imaginary — go toward restoring public safety and other critical county services, and not to our elected officials?
The 2.8 percent COLA increase doesn’t amount to much of a raise, but it’s the principle of the matter.
This is not an issue of parity — there are plenty of private and public workers and officials who deserve raises, but the recession and other economic factors dictate otherwise. You can’t compare the salaries of Curry County officials to that of officials working for other government entities such as cities and school districts, which are not on the brink of financial disaster.
It’s a matter of elected officials giving themselves a raise during dire times.
And perception is reality.
Commissioner Susan Brown understands that. Following the 3-0 vote, she told the Pilot Tuesday that she voted for the raise so that it would benefit county employees, but she will not accept it for herself.
On the other hand, Commissioner David Brock Smith reasoned that welfare, Social Security and the minimum wage have all increased, why not his pay?
Commissioner David Itzen believes that county employees should receive a COLA, not only because they deserve it, but as a job-retention strategy. Okay, we can accept that. He also said the commissioners are part of the county “team” and as such deserve an increase as well.
Itzen and Smith just don’t get it. There’s a major disconnect.
The commissioners can reason all they want, but they can’t ignore the emotional response likely to come from many citizens opposed to such an increase at this time. There will be a political backlash.
The decision could possibly dissuade voters from approving a property tax for the county jail on the September ballot. It could also impact Itzen’s chances of re-election in November.
Over the years, the commissioners have been accused of not having any “skin in the game.” It’s true. While many citizens have experienced and will continue to suffer from the effects of the lingering recession — pay cuts, layoffs, a decrease in benefits and increase in health insurance costs — the commissioners have not voted to reduce their own pay or benefits in the last three years.
And now they give themselves a cost of living adjustment?
What were they thinking?