A tough call

January 10, 2012

The Bel Air Town Commissioners failed to muster a four-fifths majority last week needed to give the town's 90 employees a 2 percent pay raise.

Three of the five town commissioners — Ed Hopkins, Susan Burdette and Rob Preston — favored giving the raises; the other two — Dave Carey and Rob Reier — voted no.

It's easy to argue either side in this matter.

Town employees were denied a 1.5 percent raise last year and they are as entitled as anyone to be rewarded for their service.

Conversely, not everyone is being rewarded for service. Too many folks are out of work and many of those who have jobs haven't seen raises for quite some time.

There's also the reality that town employees are, on the whole, fairly compensated, considering that the $7 million a year spent on wages and benefits translates to a flat average of $77,777 a year per employee. The average (considering the high cost of providing a benefits package) is neither princely nor poor.

In economic hard times, the argument can be made that giving a little bit more to civil service staff adds dollars to the overall economy. It can also be argued that the $64,871 the town would have spent on raises should be returned to the taxpayers.

The raise would have given each town employee a flat average of about $720 a year (before taxes); returning it to the taxpayers would have amounted to less than $10 a person. It's worth noting that neither is going to happen. Again, the real numbers would depend on myriad variables.

Though the majority of the town board favored the raises, a super majority was required to approve the raise, which speaks to the public contentiousness of giving raises to government employees.

The sentiment expressed by Reier, who said he couldn't vote in favor of raises when so many taxpayers in town wouldn't be getting raises, carried the day. It's a sentiment that makes sense in a down economy.

Hopefully, things will be better next year for town employees, and taxpayers.

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