Sunday, July 14, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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In Elon, more government largesse for their employees – at taxpayer expense, of course; but at least some dissent, for once

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Well, well, well.  It seems even Elon’s usually monolithic town council can – once in a blue moon – have a difference of opinion.  This week, they actually had a split vote, 3-2, and on a consequential issue.

The town council almost always votes unanimously on most items on its agenda.  Frankly, we cannot remember an occasion over the past several years in which there’s been a difference of opinion that actually manifested into a divided council vote.

Current mayor pro tem Monti Allison is often the council’s most inquisitive and skeptical member about odd-ball recommendations from the town administration.  But, unfortunately, he can usually be kowtowed into going along – apparently to keep up the happy face facade of unanimity among the five council members and mayor Emily Sharpe who doesn’t usually vote.

But this week, Allison stuck to his guns, insisting that it was illogical for the town council to adopt a 5 percent mid-year salary increase for all employees – while the town is awaiting the results of a staff-wide salary study.

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He was joined by councilman Quinn Ray, who, like Allison, first posed questions about the wisdom of proceeding with such a large mid-year increase when the issue first arose in mid December.

The council’s members had already included a 5 percent raise for the entire staff in the current budget that they adopted last June.

And then they layered on a $2,000 bonus for 68 full-time employees (and another $1,000 bonus for 18 part-time employees) just before Christmas.

The other illogical aspect of the pay raise stampede is the pretext that’s it is meant to prevent wage-related defections to other jurisdictions.  Yet  there’s no evidence whatsoever that the town is suffering major turnover, or even any turnover, as a result of its current pay structure or levels.

In December, both police chief Kelly Blackwelder and fire chief Landon Massey confessed that they had not actually lost any employees due to salaries, but insisted that “talk” about leaving had become more prevalent in their respective departments.

Massey said at the time that he felt that the “good culture” of his department has prevented many defections.

Meanwhile Blackwelder said there had been “significant turnover” in her department, but she outlined that some of those were from retirements and even at least one termination. She could not point to any officer who had left for salary reasons, although she said Gibsonville’s police department was actively trying to recruit away her officers.

At this month’s meeting, however, she was advocating for immediate pay raises.

Meanwhile, the mayor acknowledged that there were 28 applicants for the town clerk’s post, recently vacated by long-term clerk Dianne Enoch.

We question whether any municipality needs to be adopting and implementing  such large raises in the middle of the budget year.  But logic and standard operating procedure doesn’t seem to be an impediment, especially among Elon council members, to squandering taxpayer money.

Elon’s pattern of big spending and high taxing has a long history.

The council’s appetite for spending more on salaries was originally whetted by a report on the annual audit which was heard in mid-December, at the same meeting where the bonuses were first raised and subsequently passed.

It was noted that the town had a fund balance, or savings account at the end of last fiscal year, June 30, 2023 that was more than a year’s worth of its annual spending ($8.9 million, 104 percent of their annual budget).

While they didn’t seem to interpret it this way, in reality, this level of savings is, in reality, an indication that the town council has been overtaxing its citizens.  So much so that it could almost eliminate property taxes altogether for an entire year – and still  have enough money to run the town government (with some savings and other forms of revenue, such as sales tax, fees, etc.)

Elon didn’t adopt anything close to a “revenue neutral” property tax rate last year, opting instead to impose a 14 percent tax increase on its residents.

So now, flush with even more money, the town council has decided this week to splurge on its employees even more – another 5 percent raise, in addition to its previous 5 percent raise already in the budget, and in addition to its pre-Christmas bonuses.

Our commendations to Allison and Ray for at least trying to restrain their colleagues.

It was a breath of fresh dissident air in a room unaccustomed to dissent. Frankly, it needs to happen more often.

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