In the grand scheme of multi-million-dollar budgets, a few bucks for a Christmas bonus for government employees isnt that big a deal. But when Columbia Countys method for paying those bonuses this year is compared to Richmonds, it reveals a textbook lesson in why our county is ascending even as our larger neighbor falters.
Both governments last week approved appropriations for Christ-mas bonuses to county employees. But that is where the similarity ends.
In Augusta, commissioners approved across-the-board cash payouts of $50 to every employee, at a cost of more than $151,000. This decision comes as the city is in the early stages of studying its budget for next year, in which county commissioners are widely expected to push for a tax increase of as much as three mills to stem the citys threatened budget overruns.
Remember: The consolidation agreement prohibited the firing of existing employees as a cost-saving measure once Augusta and Richmond County united. But without a hiring freeze for the bloated payroll, the county budget failed to realize savings from attrition, either. (Also, a freeze makes it harder to offer patronage jobs, something the Augusta government thrives on.)
Thus, that overloaded payroll - lightened only by deputies jettisoned when a federal grant phased out - costs taxpayers for a tax increase and for high numbers of Christmas bonuses.
Meanwhile, here is how Columbia County officials put together a package of Christmas cheer: The countys 695 employees each will get a $25 gift certificate to Kroger, costing county taxpayers just $15,985.
Wait a minute, you might say: Those numbers dont add up. And they dont. Thats because by purchasing gift certificates through a bid process, the county saved nearly $1,400 by getting $25 coupons from low-bidder Kroger at $23 each.
Were just trying as a board of commissioners at Christmastime to show a little appreciation for our employees, says County Commissioner Jim Whitehead. Fortunately for taxpayers, commissioners also are showing respect to the people who pay the bills by awarding the modest bonuses in a fiscally responsible manner.
By the way: Even as property owners in our neighboring county prepare to take a hit next year, there is no tax increase proposed for Columbia County. Staffers and county officials held a planning session last weekend in which they discussed the next budget. Though the numbers are expected to be tight because of new positions necessary for staffing the jail expansion and courthouse annex, and because of the slowed economy, the property tax rate is not expected to rise.
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