Letters to the editor for Wednesday, April 12, 2017
April 11, 2017
Commissioners need to represent us
A short time ago, I attended a county workshop on the county's future planning. It was made up of county commissioners, county department heads and a few members of the public. During the workshop, we were asked to come up with areas that needed to be addressed in the county's future planning and to prioritize them. Economic growth and employee retention/satisfaction were the highest priorities. Not surprising since most of the attendees were county employees.
In the March 23rd Record-Courier article (Douglas County Commissioners prioritize potential budget surplus funds), County Manager Larry Werner was reported giving a list (to the Commissioners) of "we would like" items to be funded if any "extra money" were found during the upcoming budget process.
It seems that Mr. Werner would spend a great deal (if not all) of this "extra money" on what the county department heads want. There was no mention of what the citizens of Douglas County want.
I have talked to a great many people and their top two priorities for county services are: Public Safety and Infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, etc.).
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It is clear to me that our county manager is looking out for the county employees and not the citizens of the county he works for. He was selected by the past group of county commissioners, not the citizens of this county. We, the citizens, selected the new county commissioners and they are supposed to represent us. It's time for our local government to start asking what we want, not what the county government wants.
Commissioner Chairman Barry Penzel prioritized "under protest," saying "I am not satisfied with this," but he (along with the other Commissioners) voted for the "priorities."
It seems the tail is still wagging the dog.
Spending funds on raises isn't wise
Last election we voters installed a reform majority on the Douglas County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) with one primary message: fund critical infrastructure — roads and flood control. At the recent BOCC strategic planning workshop, our county's unelected senior staff sent us their response: buzz off.
More recently in preparation for the budget process, interim county manager Larry Werner spontaneously and unexpectedly forwarded a wish list of spending priorities from county department heads for "any extra money that may be unearthed during the (budget) process" to the commissioners. Among the listed priorities was giving the county employees a salary boost.
The majority of Douglas County's budget is spent on employee compensation — salary and benefits — which TransparentNevada.com totaled for 2016 (the latest year available) at just under $50 million. Heading up the list of 744 (!) Douglas County employees, 172 have annual compensation packages at or above $100,000. Paying for this top-heavy superstructure are a shrinking number of Douglas County residents: retired seniors on fixed incomes, and a lot of modestly compensated service sector and blue collar workers.
County employees, please recall that in the last election your unions publicly supported the tax-and-borrow incumbent BOCC, even spending your dues money on pricey full color ads to try to keep them in office where they stubbornly followed their own spending priorities, not the voters'. State law gives public employee unions extraordinary power in salary negotiations, including the right to raid unspent funds. We tax and fee payers don't have a union, our interests are supposed to be represented by the BOCC.
Today a population of middle class, lower middle class, and folks barely getting by provide the average full-time Douglas County employee a median income of $79,360. That is unfair, immoral, and unsustainable if we're ever going to get decent roads and flood control. How does a seven year commitment of 5 percent maximum annual raises (2 percent COLA and 3 percent merit) sound to you? Yes, this was unveiled at the recent budget workshops.
A big obstacle to prioritizing infrastructure over salary increases is interim County Manager Larry Werner, a month-to-month contract temp, a registered Democrat until 2015, who was retained by the prior BOCC. He certainly doesn't seem to be fighting for the voters who pay him his annualized fee of $172,000 plus $700 per month car allowance. He and other senior staff who "help" the county negotiate with the unions should be replaced with an outside law firm with government labor expertise that will give the BOCC competent negotiating guidance so that the taxpayers would actually be represented at the negotiation table.