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County Taxpayers Falling For The Same Old Trap

Alan Imhoff

June 27, 2003

While the City of Frederick continues in it's saga of the Weinberg Follies, the county government is going to "re-classify" many of its upper managers in order to secure up to a 9 percent pay raise. Both cases seem to track a common theme, in order to attract and retain qualified people we must _________. You can fill in the blank.

Every year it seems like one entity or another rolls out the same justification for higher and higher salaries. "In order to compete in the Washington area we must ______" Fill in the blank again! "Because of the competition in the private sector, we must offer competitive salaries to attract the best candidates."

Over and over, higher costs, more expense for employees and, for me, the bottom line is, are we getting the best?

Let me just admit right here I do have a prejudice because I am a retired person with lots left to still offer, like many other retirees. So what you read next may be slanted by that prejudice.

We all complain about the high cost of government, yet every year we seem to buy into this argument that we have to pay more "to attract the best".

Maybe a little bit of good old competition thrown into this process might be good. With just a few changes in words with the qualifications for many of these jobs could open up several new pools of potential candidates. (Oh, by the way, how many times have you heard "we only had X number of people apply, so_______. Fill in the blank again folks.)

Imagine for a moment that by doing some minor wordsmithing you could increase your potential pool of candidates by 50% to 100%, and possibly find people willing to work at the entry-level salary as opposed to the top. People who might have 20 to 30 years experience maybe in a "related field" that might not have otherwise been considered.

Imagine that, during a period of high unemployment (we are sort of there now) and high turnover rates in the private sector, we could attract individuals who would be willing to work for a little less than they had previously, but want the security of a more stable work environment. (Heaven knows how stable any level of government can be - except maybe for the City of Frederick right now.)

Imagine a government that would be willing to reign in the salary cost of positions by gradual "deflation", to use one of the newer buzzwords on the scene. I mean really, have you ever heard of a government entity reducing pay during hard economic times? Since most any budget, private or public, is predominately made up of personnel costs would not it make sense to reduce pay in these "reclassifications"? Instead we cut programs or start school hour earlier.

Unless we, as taxpayers, begin to question the benefits of these high salary folks the cycle will only continue. Not to mention that if the big bosses get a raise, the people reporting to them will want to stay on par with them, so as to be in line for the next promotion. And when these managers get their raises (a.k.a. reclassifications) doesn't it seem logical that for most of us we would like to remain on par as well. The circle of life?

At some point in time, we as taxpayers will need to call a halt to this time honored practice of perpetual increases in pay for the wrong reason. We are what we are, Frederick County, not Montgomery County, not Loudon County. If we make pay commensurate with the work performed for us, maybe we won't have to go out of county to attract the "best".

Oh, by the way, do not forget everywhere else is doing the same thing so if someone here is making $125,000 doesn't it stand to reason that if a job opening in one of the counties just mentioned offers $160,000 for a similar position that our "best" might be gone. So then we have to look for the "next best" or offer our "best" a reclassification to retain them at a higher, industry standard pay rate.

Which leads to another interesting question. If our "best" leaves and we recruit our "next best" do we have to offer "best pay" or can we just offer "next best pay"?

Bottom line, the cost of government never goes down under our current "best practices" way of budgeting. Maybe it is time to say, as taxpayers, enough is enough. Let's work smarter, let's bring this spiraling personnel cost into line, let's get creative and see how we can do more for less. Seems I've heard that once or twice before.

Well, back to the next act of the Weinberg Follies.

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