The government Easter bunny

April 1, 2012 

Hippity hoppity, the government Easter bunny is on its way. If you are one of nearly 500 Warner Robins city employees ,the seasonal rabbit dressed in pastel colors is likely to deliver a pay increase in your holiday basket.

It is easy for the government bunny to give it away because the prizes belong to the taxpayers. Often what appears to be the sensible decision when dealing with finances is not always what elected officials will choose.

Case and point: At least five Warner Robins City Council members are thumbing their noses at the advice of financial experts. The five are fueled by Councilman Paul Shealey’s agenda of taxpayer munificence by retroactively using funds (not available) in the 2012 budget. By voting 5-1 in March to implement an adjustment this quarter, the city would have to use $200,000 in reserves.

Based on council’s rules, the pay scale change cannot take effect immediately without another vote and that is scheduled Monday.

For the record, all six council members plus Mayor Chuck Shaheen are in favor of implementing the recent pay study. However, 33,000 registered voters are appreciative that Shaheen and Councilman Daron Lee have suggested waiting three months when the fiscal 2013 budget begins July 1.

The mayor has taken the high road by indicating he’ll work with council’s decision, but correctly reminded the members they’ll need to find the secure financing for a premature salary adjustment.

In 2011, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia gave validity to the notion that employees of the International City are underpaid for their services by issuing a detailed compensation report.

Last Thursday afternoon at a pre-council session, Marlin Nichols, an auditor from the firm Nichols, Cauley and Associates, warned the members that adjusting salaries too soon, without a competent financial plan, could bring about a burden on balancing future city budgets.

Everyone should know that the auditing firm that Warner Robins has utilized for the past seven years is no fly-by-night operation. For over 30 years this group has served business and government entities by providing auditing, accounting and analyzing business strategies around the southeast, with four Georgia locations.

Even the city’s Director of Finance Bill Harte attempted to impress on council that the budget projections indicate Warner Robins will end the fiscal year $1.77 million in the red. Harte reported that last year’s fund balance will cover the shortfall, but decrease the city’s reserves even further.

Despite the professional financial admonition to secure the supporting revenue and not simply hope it turns-up, the residents of the region watch the majority of Warner Robins council play the game of politics, toying with taxpayer money and jeopardizing future budget cycles; not to mention how bond companies will respond while watching the city plunge into reserves, knowing that delaying 90 days would be the most practical policy.

The suggestion by a few council officials that no worker on city payroll should earn minimum wage is never an astute policy. There may be some positions and some unskilled workers who fit minimum wage positions, simple as that. Each situation has to be taken on a case by case basis and no sweeping generalities should be implemented without input from the Human Resources Department.

My research indicates the first pay study in Warner Robins was conducted in 1984 under then-Mayor Ralph Johnson. That plan was never implemented and neither was the 1996 report under Mayor Donald Walker.

It is obvious that a new plan is overdue and crucial city employees should be recognized with proper adjustments in their compensation and/or benefits, making the most essential positions competitive with other entities. Even so, as Shaheen said last week, council should “make a decision with our brains, not just our hearts.”

Warner Robins should demand better from their council before the government bunny delivers taxpayers a rotten egg just in time for Easter.

Kenny Burgamy serves as a marketing consultant and is co-host of the Kenny B. Charles E., TV, radio and Internet program.

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