08/07/2006: "How To Cut County Costs"
To The Editor:
We were led to believe that implementation of the Charter would be budget-neutral, but recent reports suggest that the county will now have to pay $330,000 in unexpected additional personnel costs ("Home Rule will cost $337,000," July 12). In addition, the County Council's demand for private individual offices for each of the six part-time council members has greatly complicated the efforts of the county to obtain and configure sufficient office space for the county's workers, and could require the additional expenditure of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
After observing the behavior of the County Council over the past seven months, I had a few ideas for offsetting those costs:
First, all the County Council members elected in November will be paid $32,000 per year, the amount determined by the Salary Commission as appropriate for their part-time service to the county. Although they will be doing the same work as those elected in November, two council members (Lichter and Ranker) will each be paid $70,000 per year for the remaining years of their terms, simply because they were elected a few weeks before the charter went into effect. While these two council members have a legal right to receive $38,000 per year more than their peers, it would be a wonderful gesture for them to decline what is, in actuality, a $38,000-per-year windfall at taxpayers' expense. This would reduce the county's unanticipated personnel costs by $76,000 in each of their remaining term years, or $152,000 total.
Second, given the dire shortage of space currently available to county workers responsible for indispensable functions such as law enforcement, health and safety, and the projected costs of resolving that shortage, the County Council should abandon its demand for six separate offices for the part-time council in the existing space and consider sharing one or two offices in the Carlson building, with individual cubicles, instead. This would facilitate the reconfiguration of county space in less time and at lower cost, and would provide mission-critical full-time county employees, who have labored for years in cramped quarters, the space they need to do their jobs.
Third, since the council routinely ignores the prosecuting attorney's (unquestionably relevant and appropriate) legal advice in favor of councilmembers' pre-conceived legal "opinions," the county should formally eliminate the position of prosecuting attorney and remove the associated salary costs from the budget. The county will need that money (and much more) soon enough to clean up the mess that this council has made.