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Tough Times, Tough Budget Decisions
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 • Posted August 26, 2009

On Monday, I sat through another five hour Commissioners' Court meeting. Typically, their meetings last less than two hours; but, this is budget time, and these are tough times.

It's not as if the county was the only entity dealing with budgetary concerns. The city of Mason has been finalizing their numbers, as has Mason I.S.D. And, if we want to get persnickety about it, so have all the rest of us!

During Monday's Commissioners' Court meeting, one of the toughest and stickiest subjects concerned employee pay raises and salary levels. As always, the discussion included the topic of what constitutes good pay in Mason, and what level of benefits can make lower pay levels not seem quite as unattractive.

I've heard this same discussion for years. It usually begins with, "For Mason, this is pretty good pay." At one time, that was a valid argument, as the cost of living was so much lower in Mason than in many other areas. However, our modern world means that the cost of living in Mason is now very similar to the cost of living anywhere else. Rent or house payments may be lower; but, utility costs, grocery costs, clothing costs,,, all of those things are the same, no matter where you live.

But, incomes in Mason are NOT as high as in many areas. That means that, even though the cost of living continues to rise, income to pay those bills is not rising to meet the increased need. Our elected county officials are paid less than their peers in many other counties. Our county and city employees can make more money by moving to another town and doing the same job.

On the surface, convincing arguments to raise salaries. But, who actually pays those salaries??? You and I, through our utility bills and property taxes.

Appraised values have risen steadily the last few years, and that means that, even though the tax rates may have been kept steady or even lowered, our taxes have actually continued to climb. The state requires the taxing entities to classify any increase in revenue as a tax increase, even if the tax rate was lowered, and (semantics aside) that's what it is. In order to provide for salary increases, taxes or increased utility costs would be necessary. Which means that we taxpayers foot the bill.

Meanwhile, we're having to explain to our own employees that they can NOT have a salary increase because people are spending less, and our business incomes are down. So, my employees, who pay property taxes, have no increase in money; but, are asked to fund salary increases for our public employees through higher property taxes.

The County has been looking at passing on a salary increase this year. That's a tough call, and one that I hope the employees can understand. If property values start to fall (quite likely given the current state of the economy), then next year, the county would either have to raise taxes, or cut employee salaries, or even furlough employees. None of those are options we care to entertain, currently.

Our elected officials have a lot of tough decisions to make this year, and in the next few years. They need our calm, reasoned and informed input. No shouting, no signs, no hyperbole. Just good advice and support.

And, when times improve, let's remember that we've asked a lot of people to make sacrifices, and we should reward them when we are able.

It’s all just my opinion.

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