The Herald Bulletin

December 2, 2013

Editorial: County worker bonus sends taxpayers wrong message

The Herald Bulletin

---- — For years, Madison County citizens have heard local government officials lament the lack of funds to pay for important services and personnel.

So, it struck many folks as odd recently when County Council added a $500 employee bonus to a recently approved 3 percent raise that county employees will receive in 2014.

The bonus, to be paid at the end of the year, was approved recently for full-time employees who have been working for the county for a minimum of 90 days. Elected officials, public defenders and deputy prosecutors will not receive the bonus.

The raise for non-elected hourly county employees, approved back in October, was certainly defensible. Employees, many making less than $30,000, had not received one since 2006.

But the bonus seems excessive, in that it takes more money out of the general operating fund.

Council President John Bostic explained that the general fund is in good shape and there was some extra money to earmark. So, council decided to give some of it to employees as a bonus. Employees whose salaries are not paid through the general fund will receive the bonus from their departmental budget.

Council members Rick Gardner and David McCartney, both Republicans, voted against the bonus. Republican Lisa Phillips voted with the council's Democratic majority for the bonus, which passed 5-2.

County commissioners did not endorse the bonus, with Commissioner John Richwine citing concerns about taking money from the general operating fund.

That fund has an operating balance of about $6.5 million. The bonus amount to be taken out of the fund is about $225,000. That's a lot of cash, about 3.5 percent of the fund.

Those who have followed government at any level know that today's surplus can quickly become tomorrow's deficit, making it important to set aside excess for a rainy day.

Holding on to that $225,000 or using it to improve government services would have sent a better message to taxpayers. Heaping an employee bonus on top of a recent raise sends a very different message.

In summary Today's government budget surplus can quickly become tomorrow's deficit.