We’d like to pose a question to our county’s elected leaders and government department heads: What do you think has happened to the average American’s income over the past decade?
As county officials are slated to put their seal of approval on an astronomical 13.8 percent millage increase for 2016, (yes that’s 2016 as in the money’s already spent. 2017’s budget process will start in October) we believe they are unaware of how the private sector is faring.
We’d bet they would say wages have risen – it’s the only way we can see that they would regularly offer government workers raises. But they’d be wrong. According to Pew Research, from 2000 to 2014, middle-income households saw a loss of four percent in their incomes annually. Sadly though, according to Pew, lower-income households - of which there are many in Pickens County - saw their median income fall by nine percent from 2000 to 2014. The US Census on Tuesday said in 2015 Americans real median household income finally saw an increase by 5.2 percent between 2014-15. The median household income in the U.S. in 2015 was $56,516, up from 2014’s $53,718. Adding almost 14 percent to a budget that’s being funded by folks who’ve had drops in their income over more than a decade doesn’t sit well with anyone.
Even if the department heads and county commissioners can present completely valid reasons for their spending (as in jailers making only $29,000 a year), this large increase is just too much to swallow in one gulp.
First off, the county’s whole budgeting process needs to be brought under control. There is little accountability when they set a millage rate in September to fund money already spent. The county is setting a millage rate now and the taxes due by December will go to fund a budget they’ve already spent through their yearly addiction to the Tax Anticipation Notes they take early every year and spend before the taxes are collected. The horse is already out of the barn every year when we gather to gripe about taxes. Then a month later the county officials set budgets after the anger has subsided.
County department heads have the option each year of increasing their employees’ salaries by zero, 2.5 percent or 5 percent - elected officials can give whatever raises they want. At least they can ask for the increase. Commission Chair Rob Jones, who never seems to want the buck to stop with him, and Commissioners Becky Denney and Jerry Barnes are the only three votes that really count when approving the millage. Elected officials may ask for additional money, but they sure can be told no by commissioners
Go to a local bank or Walgreens and ask how much they have increased their employees’ salaries over the past few years.
When the economy slowed earlier this decade, private business cut salaries and benefits as there was no other way to keep the doors open. But government pay raises did not slow down a similar amount. It would appear based on the salary study, our county employees are generally fairly compensated. Nobody is getting rich there - but no one is getting rich working in garages, landscaping or raising chickens either.
Back to our original point, we’d like to reiterate: most Americans in the private sector haven’t been getting raises over the past decade. American firms in small towns are just now expanding and if the economy keeps rolling, hopefully we’ll all see raises.
Unlike with county jobs, regular employees know you can exceed expectations every day but if your company doesn’t turn a profit, you’ll likely not see a pay bump. We have no doubt most county employees work hard and are truly public servants, but unfortunately, the county’s economy isn’t turning a profit - yet. When we see a rise in all our boats, then we should talk raises for our government workers, but not before.