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New Year’s resolution: Fiscal responsibility

January 2, 2015
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

2014 was a good year for Cape Coral residents hoping for economic stability.

Property values continued to climb; they were up 8.63 percent overall in the Cape.

Unemployment continued to tick down, sitting at 5.7 percent for November.

Business growth has returned with some notable projects announced and expected to break ground this year.

Those include The Resort at Tranquility Lake at Burnt Store Road and Durden Parkway for "five-star, luxury resort for class A-motor coach owners," and an outpatient medical facility on a 5-acre parcel at Veterans Parkway and Surfside.

And there's more - most of it good.

According to a leading economic indicators report prepared by Florida Gulf Coast University and issued this month, airport passenger counts are up as are tourism tax revenues. This means people are traveling and they are coming here, contributing money to the local economy.

The bad news? There hasn't been much, thank goodness, in terms of an economy returning to normalcy.

There is, however, one area of concern - and that is the city of Cape Coral's return to "normalcy" as well -AKA, the same-old, same-old, economic boom philosophy when it comes to how the administration, and subsequently council, approaches employee compensation.

Let us be clear here:

We are not opposed to raises for city employees.

We agree that raises have been lacking through the lean years.

We acknowledge that those who are unionized "gave back" negotiated increases and that adjustments have been made to an area of particular concern, pension funding and contribution.

But 5 percent hikes on top of retroactive 5 percent raises delivered via "bonus checks" cries of fiscal irresponsibility in light of both private sector reality and how other public sector agencies are managing the very same challenge. That would be how to balance the need to fairly compensate employees who have yes, sacrificed and yes, absorbed additional duties, without goring those who actually pay those salaries.

Meanwhile, "reclassifictions" - additional compensation for upgraded pay grades - are a topic of discussion even as the city looks to wage analysis with an eye to making sure the Cape pays among the top 25 percent of comparable cities.

Let us re-stress for 2015 some points we made just three days after the new fiscal year started on Oct. 1 and the administration placed its pay plan on the table:

One, salary evaluations must - must - be predicated on total compensation; the city is making a mistake as it look at wages and salaries in a vacuum.

Council needs to demand that the value of the benefits package be included with every compensation increase proposal.

We believe the city is more competitive than simple salary and wage numbers might indicate.

Two, in that same apples-to-apples vein, wage and salary levels for like private sector positions should be part of any wage evaluation. If we learned anything from the boom-and-bust, the public sector comparison spiral is a failed business model. It simply is not sustainable.

Three, job reclassifications. As we urged in October, council needs to go slow.

Very slow.

If these entail quantifiable new skills, new training or verifiable new responsibilities - i.e. the employee took on a supervisor's role without ever getting the title - it's a reclassification.

If it's a new title for the job an employee is currently performing - and yes, that includes the "extra" duties that justified keeping the position on the books - it's a pay raise.

And lastly, retroactive raises?

Let us be blunt: The city should not be cutting "bonus" checks.

It's a fiscally dangerous precedent and opening door to this in 2014 was a huge mistake.

We urge council to collectively make a joint resolution in 2015: Commit to fiscal responsibility

That means scrutinizing any and all payroll issues that come before it in the new year.

Personnel costs, after all, remain the city's largest single expense.

And so far we're not doing so well with the magnifying glasses.

- Breeze editorial



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