Why did county leaders approve staff raises?

Published 3:08 pm Saturday, December 13, 2008

I am frankly at a loss as to why or how the county commissioners could meet, study, discuss and then establish raises in salaries for county employees. Raises from 2.7 percent to 5 percent for elected officials and a 2.5 percent raise for union employees. The ditch inspector will be making 25 percent more in 2009 than he did in 2007.

Are we somehow unaware of our present economic condition? We are in a recession and possibly the worst is yet to come. Our state faces an upcoming $5.5 billion deficit. Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders have warned that aid to cities and counties is going to be “hit hard.”

There is every good reason to freeze salaries and hiring. Why would we not do that? I certainly have no fault to find with the performance of our county or city employees; however, under the circumstances, I think the elected officials could maintain their lifestyle without a raise at least until the economy stabilizes. I am further confused by the actions of the city council at its last meeting. Once again, may I remind you that the state will most certainly be cutting aid to cities and counties. State leaders tell us this will come “sooner than later.” Yet, we move on and give raises to employees, purchase new high cost items, resulting in a 2.8 percent increase in the budget. This would be a good time to “freeze” the budget, hiring, and all aspects of controllable costs.

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The report from the council points out that this will result in a $9 annual increase in taxes on a $100,000 home in Albert Lea. Results of a study in the League of Minnesota Cities data, an Albert Lea homeowner is paying (2008) 29 percent more tax on his home (based on $125,000 value) than in Austin, 43 percent more than in Faribault, and 16 percent more than in Owatonna. From 2004 to 2008 the tax on this cited home rose 15 percent in Albert Lea. It would be interesting to compare the cost of water in Albert Lea with our neighboring cities. There are hundreds of thousands of citizens in the U.S. who have lost their jobs. Many thousands have taken a pay cut. I hope that our elected officials will re think their attitudes toward the budget and expenses in general before another year of decisions confronts us.

Warren Jensen

Albert Lea