Friday, July 23, 2010

Deaf and blind?

Blaine County's proposed budget contains a 3 percent raise for employees. The same budget calls for the creation of two new county jobs.

In other years, the proposal wouldn't raise an eyebrow, but this year it's eye-popping in a county that has seen the 60 percent of its economy that was based on real estate and construction vanish.

The proposal is blind to the fact that the remaining economy, which is tourism, is down an average of 19 percent in each of the past two years. Hasn't anyone noticed the proliferating "For Lease" signs in the windows of buildings where businesses once thrived?

The proposal is deaf to the fact that the Crash of 2008 is still reverberating throughout the county.

Property values have plunged, depriving working families and investors of money they once had "in the bank."

Foreclosures have piled up at record levels. Families and individuals have lost homes, paychecks, health insurance and large chunks of savings that were invested in the stock market.

Others are holding on by a thread. The employed are still suffering periodic layoffs, furloughs and shrinking paychecks. Laid-off employees unable to find other jobs are now facing the end of unemployment benefits courtesy of a minority in the U.S. Congress who believe they are wastrels instead of hardworking Americans.

Some county officials say a raise is justified because the cost of living has gone up more than 4 percent over the past two years.

By whose reckoning? The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says that from July 2009 to July 2010 the consumer price index increased 1.1 percent. The previous year, the department concluded that the increase was zero.

County employees are lucky to have good steady jobs with health and retirement benefits. Unlike people in the private sector, they take no market risk to generate the proceeds. Today, public employees have some of the best jobs around.

The same budget containing the raises contemplates more revenue from taxpayers who will be asked in an election next month to pay higher taxes for two years to support the Blaine Manor nursing home while volunteers raise money for a new private facility.

County commissioners say they must stop eating into reserves to pay for care for nursing-home residents.

So, what are taxpayers to make of a county that doesn't have enough money to support the frail and sick, but has enough for higher wages and two new employees?

The county commissioners should keep wages frozen—just like they did last year—until the local economy shows significant improvement. It's only prudent.

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