First, the city is unloading responsibility for a mess it created on taxpayers. When cuts were needed in previous years, leaders such as the police and fire chiefs were forced to take reductions in pay while officers and firefighters were able to take part of their cuts in the form of nonwage concessions – cuts to uniform allowances, for example. The result was that the salaries of these public safety leaders were pulled closer to the amounts paid to the workers they supervise, creating an imbalance on the wage structure.
The city still is in cutting mode — perhaps more so today than ever – but it seems as though leaders are looking back at those previous concessions and issuing a big, “Oops!” Part of the rationale for bumping up the pay ranges of the police and fire chiefs is that Sparks might otherwise become less competitive than other jurisdictions and might lose employees who realize they can make more for the same job somewhere else.
Apparently, forethought about this possibility escaped city leaders when the concessions were originally made. Or the power of the bargaining units representing police officers and firefighters were too powerful and able to wrangle a deal to keep the paychecks bigger while giving ground on the nonwage concessions, which was a more palatable thing for members to give up while still helping the city balance its budget. So there is blame to spread around on this aspect, but the fact remains that someone failed to step back, assess this situation and say, “Hey, wait, if we do this the boss is making the same as the underlings.” If someone did notice, they were overridden or didn’t say anything in the hopes it wouldn’t come back to bite them — but it has.
Another rationale for some of the increases is that with all the layoffs, certain workers are doing a lot more work but not earning any more money. City Councilmember Ron Schmitt said it best when he asked to see an employee who isn’t doing more for less. We would like to remind the city about all its former employees who are right now sitting at home doing nothing for no pay at all. Everyone who still is on the payroll ought to consider themselves lucky to still have a job regardless of how much they earn relative to their workload.
Sadly, dealing with layoffs is not new to the city. It has been happening for several years now, which is why it is particularly troubling the way the city handled the inevitable negative publicity around this week’s pay increase story. Certainly this announcement was not likely to come across as favorable, but a proactive campaign to emphasize the reasons behind it likely would have made it less sickening to the taxpayers who are footing the bill.
The fact that the city finds itself needing to give raises to some employees when more cuts and layoffs are almost certain to come is plainly a bitter pill no matter how much sugar coating is done. And as the city prepares to return to the negotiating table with various unions, it isn’t going to help its case now that the pay and wage range increases have given the bargaining units an ace up their sleeves. The current budget crisis is a no-win situation all around, so either side will likely play any card it has.
In the end there is no good and happy way out of this situation, but we hope the city learns from its stumblings along the way and handles things better from here on out.