Between the school district’s recently approved raises of $87,300 and $151,000 in raises and benefits likely to go to Haines Borough employees next year, the borough appears to be about to pay its workers an additional $238,000 next year.
That’s a lot, considering that neither state nor federal contributions to the borough increased in the past year, and that the local economy has not recovered from the national recession.
Also, the borough assembly recently took action that raised fees and drastically cut summer hours at the swimming pool. Pool hours already have been cut on weekends, particularly elimination of Friday and Saturday night winter swims for kids that once so crowded the pool a second lifeguard was required.
At the library, winter evening hours have been eliminated except on Thursdays.
When government income is stagnant or declining, and we start cutting hours at public facilities, it’s time to reconsider routine raises for public employees.
Here’s an idea: Attach raises to comparable increases in local sales tax revenues. When the town is making money, it can afford to pay its employees more. When it’s not, it can’t. Such a system also would provide a strong incentive for borough and school employees to shop in local stores. By shopping at home, helping boosting sales tax numbers, workers could literally put money back into their own pockets -- and keep it in Haines.
Also, leaders need to consider pay raises through the prism of the increased borough staff. In the past 10 years, the government has added positions like carpenter, public facilities director, assistant to the public facilities director, second assistant harbormaster, second assistant to water and sewer operations, assistant clerk, and assistant to the manager.
Adding staff would be expected to cut the workloads of existing employees. That’s a benefit for workers that should be counted when employees ask for more money.
Finally, it’s long past time to include discussion of employee contracts during work on school and borough budgets.
In recent years, the school board and assembly have effectively hidden employee pay raises under the shell of “negotiations” during budgeting. Then, after the messy haggling of budgeting is over – voila – comes approval of employee raises paid for with money from borough and school fund balances, with nary any public discussion.
Employee pay raises are a budget issue. Contract negotiations should be held in winter and proposed contract revisions should be considered as part of the coming year’s budget, like any other expense.