April 20, 1993

In assembling next year's county budget, Carroll's commissioners may have been able to pull the figurative rabbit out of a hat.

They succeeded in finding revenue to give school employees raises of 3 percent. They proposed $1,000 across-the-board raises for county employees. And they agreed to build a much-needed middle school.

All of this was done without raising the tax rates on property or income. Closer examination will be needed, however, to determine whether the pay increases were financed by cuts in programs.

While some taxpayers may grouse about pay raises for school and county employees, the increases -- particularly for county workers -- are overdue. During the past three years, county employees have not received general cost-of-living raises. Recently, the commissioners did grant the 500 county workers a $500 across-the-board increase for this year, but at the same time they rightly decided that was not sufficient.

By awarding the same raise to all workers in the budget for fiscal year 1994, the commissioners are also ensuring that the largest percentage increases go to the lowest-paid employees. The raises will range from 7.6 percent for those at the bottom of the scale to 2.2 percent for the highest-compensated workers.

School employees have also not gone without across-the-board raises for two years, but they have received step and longevity increases. Those raises, between 3 and 5 percent, depend on an employee's position on the pay scale. Nearly half of the 1,400 teachers are scheduled to receive them in the next year.

By giving raises to both school and county employees, the commissioners escape the whipsawing that often occurs between these two camps of employees.

County workers, who have much less generous longevity and step increases than their school system counterparts, feel that they have shouldered much of the burden of government cost savings by taking on more responsibilities as the public work force has shrunk through attrition.

If the county budget office has juggled finances so that no further cuts are being made to programs and services -- most of which have been pared to the bone already -- there is ample reason to award pay raises to the county's work force.

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