Madison County commissioners want to make a good gesture toward county employees, who haven’t received raises in several years.
So the board spent considerable time Monday morning talking with department heads about giving county employees a boost in pay for one year. Commissioners agreed that the economic outlook for the next few years is uncertain and they don’t want to commit to increased pay beyond the next budget year.
That means raises appear unlikely. But one-time bonuses for the county’s roughly 175 employees appear probable. And the board discussed having bonus checks ready for county employees in December in time for Christmas.
Though members tentatively approved bonuses — which wouldn’t be officially set until a budget is passed — the group clashed on how those bonuses should be distributed, voting 3-2 — with Pete Bond and Jim Escoe voting “no” — to allow department heads to determine how the money should be distributed among employees. A dollar amount on the bonuses was not finalized, but the group discussed allocating about $175,000 to the employees, which would roughly equal $1,000 per employee if distributed equally.
Escoe was adamant that any bonuses should be divided equally among all employees, while Mike Youngblood proposed giving department heads the authority to distribute bonuses as they see fit, perhaps giving more to those with longevity or those who are doing a better job than some others. The exchange between the two got heated, with Youngblood telling Escoe not to point his finger at him.
Naturally, employee pay is always a contentious matter wherever you work. Government, too. Meanwhile, there are many who will disapprove of any pay boost to anyone getting a government paycheck these. That is a popular attitude in difficult times.
The truth is, Madison County’s pay system is messed up. Some people don’t earn what they should. Others might get more than their duties warrant.
Nevertheless, all employees have dealt with wage stagnation as inflation has taken its toll on household purchasing power. This is true for everyone, not just government employees.
As I sat and listened to all the discussions of possible bonuses Monday, I thought of the broader political implications, particularly in light of the $12.5 million question ahead in November.
Right now, there is considerable anxiety from a number of local leaders about the upcoming special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) vote in November. One concern voiced at the meeting Monday is the fact that some people believe SPLOST is a new tax, not a renewal. Let’s be clear, this is absolutely not the case: if voters approve SPLOST, they are voting to keep sales taxes the same. There is no tax increase in voting “Yes.”
Perhaps some people are confused about the SPLOST renewal because the one-cent transportation tax (T-SPLOST) that was voted on last year would have created a new penny tax for roads. But that was shot down by voters. The upcoming SPLOST vote is to renew a one-cent tax that has been in place for over two decades and which has paid for numerous county improvements. Naturally, there are those who will disapprove of certain projects. For instance, there are those who don’t want money tagged for the recreation department or for water and sewer lines — these can be contentious matters, no doubt.
But we all use county roads to get where we’re going. Even if our own road isn’t paved, we’ll use countless other county-maintained paved roads over six years. Half of every penny per dollar spent in Madison County over the next six years will go toward roads if SPLOST is approved. And the county will also designate a considerable portion to public safety uses, such as replacing old ambulances. Such things are important for any community that wants to maintain basic decency.
Ironically, those who will vote “No” on SPLOST in November — and there will be those who think they’re killing off a tax — will actually vote “Yes” to more pain on property owners. Why? Well, if SPLOST is shot down, the county isn’t just going to give up on maintaining roads or keeping up ambulances. No, they’ll turn to property taxpayers to foot more of that bill.
Obviously, a property tax rate hike has been the ultimate political “no, no” in this county for years. But a countywide “No” on SPLOST will give future commissioners more freedom to abandon that old standard. The “No” will necessitate the future hard “Yes” at the BOC table to a tax rate increase. If you don’t see this, you’re fooling yourself.
Anyway, I listened to all the talk Monday, thinking of the upcoming November day, when county voters will be counted on to vote in our community’s best interest, casting their “Yes” for SPLOST on a $12.5 million matter.
There is certainly confusion these days. For instance, I was surprised to hear that many think this is a new tax. It’s absolutely not. But matters can easily get twisted. And we can see nationally at least that we all view the same things, but interpret them very differently.
I jotted notes and thought of the employee “bonus” headlines I would have to write, the fact that the BOC is talking about cutting checks in December, one month after the SPLOST vote. I recognize that the bonuses and SPLOST have nothing to do with each other. They are totally unrelated. By law, no SPLOST money would ever go toward bonuses. But I’ve watched enough politics to see the risk in bringing up any pay increase or supplement issue amid a crucial community vote. Many are just itching for any reason to vote “No” on something that clearly needs a “Yes.”
For sure, county employees are not bringing in big money. And bonuses are probably just a drop in the bucket compared to what a number of those folks deserve. I just think the timing on the issue is bad with that November day ahead.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
Is it an appropriate time for talk of bonuses? No, the county's budget isn't looking that good. However, if they're bound and determined to do it, take away the Dept. heads ability to do with it as they see fit, there's no other way it would be fair.
"Meanwhile, there are many who will disapprove of any pay boost to anyone getting a government paycheck these. That is a popular attitude in difficult times."
"The truth is, Madison County’s pay system is messed up. Some people don’t earn what they should. Others might get more than their duties warrant."