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
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.