Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Without question, there are people employed by the city of Vermillion who take their jobs very seriously and work hard every day.

It would be unfair for us to state otherwise. The city's day-to-day operations are, apparently, being conducted smoothly. Yes, some challenges arise now and then, but that's the norm for every city.

Vermillion citizens do have a right, however, to reflect on a critical component of the city's work force � their pay.

It's an issue that, in fact, even Mayor William Radigan and some members of the Vermillion City Council are beginning to grow concerned about.

It's a concern that is quite easy to understand.

City employees received a 2.7 percent wage increase in 1999, and a 3 percent boost in their pay this year.

That doesn't seem too much out of line. It's probably close to, or perhaps just a bit above, the effect inflation had on city workers' pay.

A more alarming factor is the base wage amount the city pays various employees.

As we mentioned earlier, we have no doubt that many of the city's employees work hard for their money.

Some are in charge of the most critical services provided by the municipality, ranging from fire protection and law enforcement to making sure we have potable water, toilets that flush, electricity when we flip a light switch, and well maintained streets for travel.

But, we believe this critical question must be asked: Is the city of Vermillion (in other words, city taxpayers) spending too much on its payroll?

One only has to stroll a few blocks from City Hall down to the Clay County Courthouse to begin to wonder if this is a question that should receive some serious attention.

The people who work in the courthouse, like the city, also are in charge of critical services provided by Clay County.

What's rather sad is that many of the courthouse's most experienced employees know they will never be paid at levels similar to those of the city.

The highest paid city department head will earn nearly $70,000 in 2000.

Several other city department heads make above $50,000, and many are paid anywhere from $31,000 to over $47,000.

Compare that to the elected officials in the courthouse. In 2000, thanks to the latest action of the Clay County Commission, they will each be paid just over $28,000 this year.

Many of those county officials have years of experience on the job. The pay of these county department heads, however, resembles that which would be offered someone in an assistant's position on the city payroll, not a department head.

It needs to be emphasized that the county commission has been struggling with the salary issues for the past couple years now. And there are unique differences between the county and the city:

* Cities can tap into more revenue sources than counties. Therefore, cities traditionally have more dollars in their coffers each year to work with. So it may be proper to conclude that there will never be an equalization between county payroll levels and city payroll levels.

* Vermillion city employees also enjoy an additional advantage � the influence of labor unions. Some Vermillion workers are represented by AFSCME Local 1052, which collectively bargains with the city council each year to determine wage amounts. Some employees are represented by a second union, the General Drivers & Helpers Local 749 (Teamsters) in collective bargaining each year.

Before the city council approved the 2000 payroll resolution Monday, Mayor Radigan and other members of the council made comments that indicate they are beginning to feel uncomfortable with the city's pay structure.

Just do the math. Just to keep up with inflation may, at some point in the future, become too much for the city's taxpayers working in the private sector to bear. We agree with those who noted Monday that it's time for a wage and salary study to be conducted.

It's time to determine if the city's payroll is growing beyond what Vermillion's taxpayers can afford.

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