Like many workers since the financial implosion of 2007-2008, city and county government employees haven't had a raise in pay for three years. This year, they seem likely to get one. That's good for them. A pay increase is deserved, and it's another welcome sign of an emerging recovery from the sharpest economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression 80 years ago.
It's not clear yet how much of a raise the county government would provide to its 1,867 employees if county commissioners approve an increase. County Mayor Jim Coppinger hasn't proposed a figure, but county officials apparently expect to see a bump in revenue due to growth in the countywide property tax base, and some increase in local option sales taxes in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The city's proposal is more specific. Mayor Ron Littlefield has proposed to allocate $2.9 million for pay raises in the new fiscal year budget. Of that amount, about $1.3 million would be use to continue a plan of annual adjustments to the career salary ladders for sworn employees, those in the police and fire departments; and roughly $1.4 million would be used to fund a 3-percent across-the-board increase for the city's 755 civilian employees, and to fund additional lump-sum payments for lower paid employees in this group with salaries in the $20,000-to-$45,000 range.
The lump sum payments for lower-paid workers are intended to help offset the rising pay-gap between higher-and-lower workers that flat-percentage pay increases typically cause. That's not as calibrated as creation of a descending percentage increase for ascending wage scales would be, but it is a fair nod to city council members' concerns about the rising pay gap between higher- and lower-paid worker that is regularly fueled by flat-percentage increases for all employees.
The emerging turn-around in the city's and county's financial status is heartening. The city's operating budget for the new fiscal year, for example, is expected to be $209 million, up from $201 million budget for the current fiscal year. Part of that is due to general growth in the local option sales tax, and part is due to growth in property tax revenue from new development and rising home sales. City officials also expect to be able to add to the city's $33.8 million fund balance, a requisite for maintaining the city's AA+ credit rating.
County government's fiscal condition is similarly improved. Last year it eliminated 50 positions, due partly to lower revenue, and partly to excessive cash hoarding to build a whopping $85 million fund balance. County officials last year also moaned over the paper loss of roughly $10 million due to the expiration of the old city-county sales tax agreement, though the city spent that reclaimed money mainly to fund the budgets of the same agencies near the level previously provided by the county.
Regardless, the County Commission should be willing this year to step up to its countywide obligations for helping fund the vital civic agencies that it stiffed last year. It also should restore the full $3 million allocation for Erlanger's indigent care budget that was mandated under the act that established the Erlanger Hospital Authority. Last year the commission recklessly violated the mandate by cutting that funding in half. Given Erlanger's tenuous fiscal condition and the needs of other non-profit agencies that provide critical public services, county leaders would better serve the county's taxpayers by properly funding vital services.