And guess who’s paying the band? Yes — you the taxpayers.
The Board voted unanimously last Tuesday (and quietly, via the “consent” agenda in hopes it would fly under the public’s radar) to issue a Request for Proposals for consultants interested in conducting a salary study for the county at a cost likely well into six figures. The study would compare employee compensation here with what various other counties pay their employees.
Cobb would then adjust its salary schedule to reflect the differences.
The adjustments would only be in one direction: upward. We’ve never heard of a government doing such a study and then announcing it had been overpaying its workers, and then scaling back salaries and benefits accordingly. It won’t happen this time either. Mark our word.
COBB COMMISSION Chairman Tim Lee argues the county has not performed such a study since 2006. And the county must keep its salary structure competitive with its neighbors in order to be assured of attracting and retaining the best personnel, he says.
But the economic landscape has changed tremendously since 2006. The results of that study and its resulting higher salaries were barely in place before Cobb and the rest of the country were swept by the steepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Cobb government had to enact deep cuts in services and in 2011 raised property taxes by 15.7 percent in order to make ends meet.
The economy is finally out of the recession, but it doesn’t much feel like it. The private sector is cautiously starting to wake up, but it has learned an important lesson, even if the public sector hasn’t: the economy can move in both directions.
Better economic times are not guaranteed, despite the rhetoric out of Washington. So most business leaders in the private sector thus are taking a cautious approach for now.
The Commission has slowly begun trimming the property tax rate to reverse the earlier 15.7 percent hike, but still has far to go. Restoring the former, lower rate should be a higher priority for Lee than ratcheting up the salary scale on the backs of taxpayers.
And let’s not forget that Lee and Commission approved an across-the-board 3 percent pay hike totaling $4.5 million for county employees just last November.
As for Lee’s argument that the county has to keep competitive with its neighbors, that is true — but we and we think most readers would argue that we are still winning that competition by a wide margin. We have yet to notice any “draining away” of valued Cobb government workers to other jurisdictions.
And as every employer knows, salary is not the only factor that plays into employment decisions. Cobb government long has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for prudent management and minimal political meddling. And not only does it already offer competitive salaries for its staff, it also boasts strong benefits and a pension plan that should be the envy of many of the private-sector Cobb taxpayers now footing the bill for it.
An argument can be made that Cobb invests heavily in training its public safety workers and thus they are highly prized by competing jurisdictions; and so it is to Cobb’s benefit to pay them well in order to protect our “investment” in them.
But aside from that, and despite what Lee and the commission seem to think, we doubt many workers worth hiring or retaining are going to give up their Cobb jobs and start commuting to Forsyth or DeKalb or Fayette counties merely to see an extra $50 bucks on their paychecks.
There may come a time when Cobb government employee compensation truly does begin to lag and affect our competitiveness, but that time has not yet arrived. And Lee and his Commission should postpone their song-and-dance salary study until it does.