Langston responds

Today’s column on pay for county supervisors has generated a lot of response, including a note from board chair Linda Langston. Here’s my column and her note. 

Let me know what you think.

This is why people are fed up with government 
 Two days. Two headlines. And you wonder why people roll their eyes when you mention “government.”

On Tuesday, The Gazette chronicled a “Painful chapter” for the Cedar Rapids Public Library, which is facing more budget cuts. Staff may be trimmed, hours may be cut and the library’s Westdale branch might be closed.

Then on Wednesday, our front page carried word of the Linn County Compensation Board’s vote to give the board of supervisors and other county officials a 6 percent pay raise. The sizable increase was approved even though the size of the county board will rise from three to five members next year, and even though the budget calls for a more modest raise. Compensation board members didn’t even vote on the novel idea that supervisors with less ground to cover should get less pay.

Now, I know these are separate issues, separate government entities and separate pots of taxpayer money. I know some people will argue that I’m comparing kiwis to pomegranates.

But you can’t blame weary taxpayers for wondering how such famine and feast can coexist. You might not be able to read about dead presidents on a Sunday afternoon at the library, but there are still enough of them floating around to provide a nice, plump county pay raise. 

And there are connections. For instance, the Tuesday library story mentioned that Supervisor Linda Langston would make no promises about the possibility of more county help for the struggling library. She pointed to the county’s tight budget.

A day later, Langston is in print again, arguing that her long hours and hard work warrant a healthy pay raise, even though her realm of responsibility would shrink by 40 percent when the board expands. I have no doubt she is a dedicated public servant. But there are dedicated servants in counties all over Iowa making a heck of a lot less than $89,522 annually.

The median household income in the Cedar Rapids metro area was $48,268 in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Maybe supervisor salaries should be tied to that slow-growing figure. Just a thought.

The compensation board, which is appointed in a manner that defies accountability, took a vote that defies logic. Thanks to state law, the board is appointed by the same county officials whose salaries it oversees. Cozy.

And only in the bizarro world of government would it seem unreasonable to expect five supervisors to receive smaller paychecks for doing a job once done by three people. It was so illogical to the compensation board that it didn’t warrant a vote.

If the supervisors really care about taxpayers and their money, about tight budgets and about how this all looks to fair-minded but fed-up people, they’d toss aside the compensation board recommendation and take a pay cut, pronto. Maybe they’re too entrenched, out of touch or convinced of their own invincibility to care. But the voters just might.

Speaking of cuts, that’s what the library is going to have to take from the city council, unless lightning strikes, or more dead presidents grow on trees or drop from the sky.

LANGSTON’S E-MAIL RESPONSE

Todd:

Read with interest on why you think people are fed up with government and certainly understand.  A couple of clarifying points – I did not advocate for a pay raise.  I did make a presentation to the compensation board regarding our activities as requested.  I did give them information on what comparable counties are paid, which state law tells them is the only thing to take into consideration when making their decision regarding pay.  At this time Polk, Story, Linn and Johnson have supervisors that are considered full time (Story will be the only one of those to have 3 supervisors after November 08) and that the other counties consider their supervisors part time.  I did answer their questions regarding the work I do as requested by the comp board.  I told them when they asked that I would be OK with a freeze in pay, though I was speaking for myself alone.  I also let them know that at this time I do not know how a 5 member board will operate – that will depend on who those 5 people are, how they come together as a team.  Also the comp board recounted how often we reduce their recommendations and that they would prefer that we accept them.  In the 5 years I’ve been in office, I believe that we have reduced their recommendation 3 times and accepted it twice.  That being said, we have only two options (by law) to lower or accept their recommendations and they must be done across the board – so if we lower our salaries, we will lower the salaries of all the other elected officials, which means that if we lower salaries to 50,000 that is what we would have to pay the county attorney, sheriff and other elected officials and the deputies who work from them are by law only paid 80 or 85% of what they make.  We are right now in a difficult position.  We can’t do what makes sense to most people because of state law and the recommendations of the board. 

Finally in regards to the library, again the difficulty comes in the funding mechanism by which we fund all eleven libraries in the county.  By law, the funding for the libraries may only come from money contributed by rural taxpayers.  We are limited by law in where those funds go to and if we give more to CR that could put us in the position of cutting what other libraries receive.  Our hope will be to reconfigure the formula by which funds are distributed which allows CR to get more and as much as possible keep revenue the same for the other libraries in the county.  I can’t promise anything, because we operate as a board, not as individuals and this is not something we have spoken about as a board, nor has a proposal been made to the county by either the CR Public Library or the East Central Library Services group.  Happy to know that someone is commenting.  We generally have no one at our budget hearings and the compensation board commented that people don’t come to their meetings or call them.  Most of the people in the room were employees and elected officials.  I believe there were 5 members of the public, two or perhaps three of them are people who will be running for supervisor.  At some point in the future, it might be interesting to have a conversation about what suggestions you might have for assisting us in better informing the public about what the county does, how it works, where tax dollars come from and where they go and if people want to know this information. I hope they want to know more.  Only about 11% of people surveyed recently knew how much of their tax dollars went to Linn County, over 50% didn’t know how much of their dollars went to the county, and the rest had incorrect numbers.  Our goal is to better inform people, so they know that of the property tax they pay to the Linn County Treasurer, 40% goes to schools, 40% goes to cities, 16% goes to county, and the remaining goes to other tax levies like Kirkwood.  Hope this is useful to you – and happy to continue the conversation at any time. 

Linda Langston

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Langston responds

  1. This is really unfortunate. From her letter, I don’t think Langston seems greedy. But she certainly seems resigned to an effort to work with, instead of overhaul, a system with obvious flaws she’s benefiting from.

    I’m an idealist, and I know that makes me dangerous, but I’d like to believe if I were a county supervisor staring at an obviously unfair system, I’d want to fix it, not defend it.

  2. red33,cedar rapids, ia

    Well, isn’t this convenient that she states that to lower this figure mentioned, would mean to lower the salaries of the other ‘officers’. This is simply a sham; there is no way these supervisors should be paid this much money for what they do. This is Linn County, IA, not NYC. Give us a break……as taxpayers, and lower these salaries; no one asked you to run for office.

  3. red33,cedar rapids, ia

    The supervisors do not do enough to be entitled to that kind of money for the population of Cedar Rapids, and I think …..deep down, they know this.

  4. Rodger Greear

    Problem is….the Supervisor’s credibility is zero-zilch-nada-lower than worm dirt! Just in the way they handled the whole issue of expanding the supervisors to five members, forcing a communications study upon local law enforcement (Even after their own sheriff stated it was not needed or wanted) to the manipulation of the redistricting map fiasco…just some of the many reasons most voters don’t trust what they have to say. Sorta like the Chamber and the way the art was handled before anyone found out about what was originally planned.

  5. John

    “Read with interest … and certainly understand” is B.S. for “Your tightly reasoned column infuriated me, and since I have no real power and am not a meathead, I am going to write this self-serving e-mail message instead of driving over to your house and knocking your block off.”

    Now I don’t begrudge anyone their $90,000 a year, no matter how absurd its provenance. But I object to the handcrafting of straw men when a body should be conducting the people’s business.

    Linda? I “read with interest” your comments, and want to know why you don’t earn some of that money?

  6. Rosemary Thomson

    Let’s see … the Cedar Rapids city council members get $15,000 per year for managing a budget of $300,000. And the County Board of Supervisors get $84,455 for managing a budget of $100,000. Is there a disconnect here?

    It would be interesting to compare what each actually does for their salaries! How about it, Todd? Keep up the good work!

  7. Dot

    Silly me: I voted for five supervisors.
    Back then, I thought it was ridiculous for three people to have so much control over this county. It never occurred to me that five people would deserve the same salary (and don’t forget the kick-ass benefits) that went to three people doing an amount of work that is unlikely to increase by 40 percent from here on out. Hmmm.
    They are part time, pay them part time. Would designating supervisors as part time, and paying them accordingly, affect the salaries of full-time officials?
    I do have to say, Langston has a point: we just don’t attend county board meetings, budget hearings, etc. It’s only after the fact that we start our complaining.
    I spent years attending city, county, school board, hospital board, etc., meetings for work, and often marveled that so few people cared to participate.
    But they’ll spend hours and hours each week watching sporting events. Again, Hmmm.
    (And, no, I haven’t been to a meeting I haven’t been paid to attend. Shame on me.)
    FYI the 177-page FY08 Linn County budget is available on the county web site. Am I reading it right, is it a $99.4 million budget?

    P.S. I am going to suggest at my job that we employees get to ask our friends for a raise, rather than go through an evaluation process involving — oh, what are they called? oh, yeah, — our supervisors.

  8. Taxed Silly

    All that hard work to keep from ending up in the same district as Ms. Barron. Mr. Langston “advsising” how the lines should be drawn. All the expense and bother of a show to say it was “fair.”

    I hope that pay increase will cover moving to Mt. Vernon when the lines are drawn again after the ’10 census.

  9. Kris

    After Jim Prosser had been in his new position for a few months, he spoke at the State of The City event and said that Cedar Rapids has much lower income than other cities its size across the nation. Since then, I’ve been trying to find out what he meant, asking the Gazette to investigate what Mr. Prosser was talking about — if taxes are high, why isn’t income? How much lower is income, comparably? How do other cities spend their income, both dollars and percentage?

    Ms. Langston is essentially offering that information for the county and I think that is just stellar, and a great step in the right direction. I’d love to see a presentation put on their website, and covered in the Gazette THEN if they want to have discussions or offer meetings on it, that would be super.

    I’m guessing that her comments about the use of money from rural residents is very closely tied to Mr. Prosser’s point. If we’re going to turn Cedar Rapids around and make it a great place to live, we all need to understand the budget — where the money comes from and where it goes.

  10. Curt Zingula

    Supervisor Langston again proves the reality of the disconnect between herself and the rural unincorporated area. Langston states that 16% of county property tax is actually used by the county. This is not true for the rural community which has been argueing for better representation. Our giving is 30% of property tax to the county (no city payment). However, if this differance were to “leak” out, those people who currently claim to have as much to gain or loose as the rural constituency, would have to come up with a better excuse for map G’s gerrymandering!

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