Charleston County employees deserve to be valued, but so do Charleston County taxpayers. When County Council meets today, it should delay action on a $1,000 bonus per employee until the proposal gets the same level of scrutiny that it would during regular budget deliberations.
The bonus was endorsed by council’s Finance Committee, which is a committee of the whole, on Thursday. Presented as part of the administration’s mid-year budget review, information on the pay raise was provided to council on Tuesday.
But it wasn’t listed on the on-line committee agenda available to the general public. Nor was supporting information available.
County officials fairly note that a bonus was considered in December, but was punted until the mid-year review because of budgetary concerns.
Maybe council members should be expected to follow such matters over the course of several months, but it’s too much to expect the public to do so.
The bonus would cost $2.5 million.
Council chairman Teddie Pryor, who supports the bonus, says that county employees have had to take on extra duties as positions have gone unfilled.
Since the recession began, he says, “We have balanced the budget on the back of the employees.”
And, he adds, medical insurance and Social Security payments by employees have increased.
Since the beginning of the recession in 2008, the county workforce has actually increased slightly, but officials say that is due to requirements for additional staff at the expanded detention center and the consolidated 911 center.
And overtime for county workers has declined since then, but that’s due to “coding changes” for worker pay in the interim, officials explain.
Mr. Pryor says the bonus is overdue, but council opponents criticize it for being on the fast track. If approved today, the checks could be sent out as early as Friday.
“Any opportunity to spend taxpayers’ dollars is done with speedy efficiency,” says County Councilman Joe Qualey, one of two council members to vote against the pay hike.
At the least, more explanation is required. Officials should be able to make their case to council and their constituents.
At this point, for the employees it’s a bonus; for the taxpayers, a surprise.
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