Mebane city manager Chris Rollins unveiled his proposed budget for the city this week. And it’s a real whopper in terms of spending levels and spending priorities.
First some caveats. Rollins is one of the nicest and most competent government workers around today. He is, however, a penultimate bureaucrat, who looks after his city’s bureaucrats as a first priority. Which might be admirable except that he tends to forget the people who pay his salary, the salaries of all other employees, and line items of all other city spending.
Second, Mebane is growing, that’s for sure. However, all that growth hasn’t taken place between last year and this. But the budget explodes as though it did.
Rollins has included all sorts of big-ticket new equipment for the city: new fire truck ($650,000); new leaf truck ($320,000); new garbage truck ($210,000); four new police cars ($260,006); and three new pickup trucks ($120,000).
Although those are expensive items, that’s not where we would quibble.
A whopping $900,000 to spend on a so-called greenway project that is a disaster waiting to happen continues to be an extravagance without any demonstrable urgency in serving all city residents.
This trail, when and if it is used at all, will inevitably be used by a very small pool of residents, which could become an even smaller number if crimes proliferate along the forested path, as they have in so many other municipalities that have similar walking trails in similar terrain.
It’s small potatoes by comparison but another waste of money to spend $50,000 on “diversity training.” But even more puzzling is $25,000 designated for the city’s Racial Equity Advisory Committee, which is supposed to be a volunteer advisory committee. So why the expense?
But what we find particularly objectionable is the astronomical costs of more raises and additional employment benefits that Rollins has designated for city employees.
Earlier this year, in an action we considered quite premature, the council upped all employee salaries by 3 percent, at Rollins’ recommendation. Now, Rollins is proposing an additional 3 percent increase for all employees. That’s more than $850,000 on an annual basis just for so-called “cost-of-living” increases.
But what is even more mind-blowing is that the increased costs for health insurance benefits – a wonderful but costly benefit not always enjoyed by those in the private sector – are projected to balloon by over 20 percent! With a total additional price tag of $253,085.
So, in reality, city employees are getting the equivalent of an effective increase in their salary and benefits package of over 26 percent. That’s simply preposterous.
Somehow, we’ve noticed that finance bureaucrats (including city managers) don’t consider increased benefit costs as the benefit it clearly is. But the combination of higher health insurance premiums and higher salaries means Mebane’s city workers are making out like bandits – especially compared to the poor taxpayers who are asked to foot the bill.
And, just by the way, that doesn’t include yet another quarter-million dollars that the city council authorized in yet another tier of raises to 61 percent of the city’s workforce as the result of a performance and pay study conducted earlier this year.
So, to summarize: over $1 million in higher salaries for existing employees; another quarter-million dollars for higher health insurance premiums to cover all of its employees; and still another $653,895 for 10 additional employees.
So what consideration did the city’s taxpayers get?
Not much, if any.
We guess they’re supposed to be grateful that they have “only” a 6 percent increase in their monthly water and sewer rates.
No property tax cut, despite all the ways in which city revenues could be re-directed from the city’s staff to at least a nominal share to its residents.
For another aspect of the growth that Mebane is experiencing is an explosive growth in its tax base, which should – in and of itself – be enough to allow a modest tax cut, in addition to financing the truly needed increases in Mebane city spending.
As is so often the case, government workers continue to benefit at the expense of the taxpayers who pay their bills.