County salary hikes
The kick-off timing for Douglas County’s economic vitality project is a bit odd. It seems inappropriate to devote tax money to retain a consultant and divert county staff time to develop a long range prosperity plan while here-and-now unemployment is in the teens and local businesses are in crisis. Hopefully there are some behind-the-scenes steps being taken to reduce the tax and regulatory burden on private sector wealth producers. If not, the vitality project should be viewed as a blend of well-meaning industrial policy and pre-election PR theater.
Geoff Dornan recently reported in the Nevada Appeal that Nevada’s richest public sector compensation packages are at the local government level. This is certainly true for Douglas County, according to TransparentNevada.com. For example, there are 53 county employees who provide recreation services. From 2008 to 2009, as the county moved into the teeth of the recession, the top eight employees in this category – led by a superintendent recreation at $120,000 per year – got annual increases of about $5,000 each.
At this point in the discussion, someone usually points out that some of the county’s budget comes from state and federal sources, as well as county taxes and fees. Likewise, those who pay taxes and fees to Douglas County also pay them to the state and federal governments.
When county leaders levy a 3 percent lodging tax while at the same time spending tax dollars to goose the tourism industry in some brave new beyond, you’ve got to wonder if they’re even in touch with their constituents. The weight-bearing private sector is buckling, with fewer wealth producers and less income per capita to tax.
The first step to growing business in the future is to stop losing it now. Maybe the county could commission a “vulnerable business” champion. Did anyone in county government know that Lira’s Supermarket or Tahoe Creamery were fixing to close up shop? Maybe nothing could have been done to save them, but it would be good to know that at least someone in county government talked to them.
The county might also think about a “corporate intelligence” champion. Did anyone on the economic vitality team know that Kohls, Big Lots or Peerless Dry Cleaners was considering opening locations in the area? Maybe each county department that private enterprise must deal with could deputize its employees as “rules and regulations” champions, dedicated to providing a low drag pathway to making Douglas County more economically competitive.
Unburdening the county’s wealth creators will involve the unglamorous task of facing down public employee pressure groups and delivering a tough message to folks used to getting some non-essential county services for little or no cost. This won’t garner any ceremonies or headlines, but the simple fact is that government is funded at the expense of the private sector. The hurdles to economic prosperity in the county’s forward-looking mirror are closer than they appear to be.