On Monday, Mesquite Citizen Journal offered a story which reported on the top salaries in the city. [Click Here for that story]
Some of the numbers are startling, particularly the notion that the city paid more than $12 million in salaries, overtime, and benefits. That number is actually higher, but the city continues to use rules and policies to hide the truth from its citizens by refusing to include former employee salaries in the list (and with the amount of attrition the city has experienced in the last year, you can bet that's a serious number).
Twelve million dollars.
That's a lot of money for any community (except maybe Bell, Calif.).
In a town of around 15,000 (not the 19,000 population number city staffers continue to lie about), that comes to $800 for every man, woman, and child in Mesquite.
There's no disputing that we pay a lot of money to our government employees. But that may not be a bad thing.
When you strip out the multitude of benefits and get down to the actual base salaries, they aren't that far off. The cost of benefits, especially health insurance, has silently been exploding over the last decade. It's one of the most disturbing secrets that nobody wants to talk about. And that's the cost right now, before any "Obamacare" measures, in that "open market" (insert sarcastic laugh here) politicians and Wall Street have convinced you is such a great deal for the American people.
Like it or not, we have to pay benefits. If you want to get ticked off about it (and you should), direct your ire at the insurance companies and their protectors, the United States Congress. It's not the fault of the Mesquite City Council or even those much-maligned "city staffers." Otherwise, the top news story wouldn't be about high city salaries; it would be about city workers forced to stand in line at the free clinic to get treatment for their children. That's definitely not the image we want to promote.
Also, there's a change in the government employee dynamic.
It used to be that government employees were paid less than their private sector counterparts because a city job was usually a lifetime appointment. Not anymore. If we're going to wantonly terminate underlings to protect the salaries of the top dogs, then those employees need to be paid like the employees at corporations who are subject to the same callous fate.
Then you have to take a look at the individual wages and the dreaded "top ten."
A lot of people have been outraged that six of the 10 highest salaries in Mesquite are paid to mere police officers.
For a change, unlike most of this country, Mesquite has it right.
I've never understood why office dwellers who never lift a finger or break a sweat get paid so much more than men and women whose careers involve taking turns in the crosshairs of a terrorist sniper's rifle. In my book, anyone willing to sacrifice their lives to protect a neighborhood or a nation deserves the highest pay.
That's our local police department, and they deserve to earn more than the guy whose job is to rubber stamp "denied" on building and business permits.
In one online comment, someone was astounded to find that several Mesquite police department members earn more than the city attorney.
Forgetting for a moment the question of whether we have ever gotten our money's worth out of our current city attorney, all you really need to do is take a look at the two job descriptions. A cop has to literally stare down the barrel of a loaded gun, make split-second decisions about saving or ending another human life, and physically put their hands on violent human scum during the hottest days and most frigid nights. Attorneys sit in nice air-conditioned offices shuffling papers until it's time to go to court or attend a meeting and interrupt with "point of order" every time an elected official tries to actually talk to a member of the public.
Another thing I like about our "top ten" is that we're mostly talking about local folks, people who have lived here for a long time while serving their community. If we're going to give away $150,000, let's give it to the guy who has been here for 10 or 20 years, not the carpetbagging bureaucrat who's simply found a comfy municipal perch to land on while collecting big seeds before flying off to North Las Vegas or some other bigger, better nest.
The truth is that most of the big dollar earners wound up on the top ten list because they've been here so long. More than a few started with the city in the early days back when our rate of pay could be characterized in the "peanuts" strata. By simply sticking with us, their embarrassingly small pay raises over a lot of years have finally elevated them to the higher levels. And in America, that's the way it used to be -- you hang onto your job, work your way up the ladder, and the rewards should be waiting.
The salaries that disturb me are the ones where we bring in gunslingers from out of town and pay them obscene amounts of cash because our collective self-esteem is so low we think nobody in our piddly little town is good enough or smart enough to do the job. It's like the wealthy dweeb who hires high-priced prostitutes because he thinks he's too ugly for a woman to want him any other way.
A different question for another time is whether we're getting our money's worth. When it comes to this police department, led by a real cop who isn't afraid to still get his hands dirty by working a case, I'd have to say yes. The last three bank robbers sitting in their jail cells would probably agree, along with the murderers who got caught 10 years after the crime because our cops wouldn't give up. With our police department's high solve rate, I'd say that's money well spent.
A lot of the same arguments could be made for our firefighters, a group that runs into burning buildings that other people are racing out of. They risk their lives against threats more significant than a paper cut, so they deserve bigger bucks. More importantly, unlike their crooked big city brethren in Vegas, our firefighters aren't gaming the system to squeeze even more money out of taxpayers.
As for Bill Tanner? I saw that man stand atop a newly-created berm looking at the raging flood waters racing toward our homes in December of 2010. You could almost see the wheels turning in his head as he figured ways to keep us safe. A lot of it worked, as we saw less damage than we had seen from the floods of 2005. He is also a tireless worker and quiet leader. The only time he gets into trouble is when he gets sucked into politics, like helping push the government lie that we needed a bigger sewage treatment facility (we didn't) or that buying an expensive piece of downtown property for a mythical new library is a good idea. Keep him out of the political side and he is one of the best city workers in the county. Maybe even the state. He's been here a long time, works hard, doesn't pump up his own ego, and quietly gets things done like the Hunter Park ballfields, the lights at the VVHS baseball field, and a dozen other city projects that came in on time and under budget during his watch. He deserves whatever the city is paying him.
So is our payroll too high? Probably. Especially for a town this size. Are there some cuts that could comfortably be made? Absolutely, particularly in upper level management where a few bureaucrats have managed to prove just how overpaid they truly are. I believe there's a job behind a McDonalds fry-o-lator with their plastic nametag on it.
But for the most part, with those notable and way-too-powerful exceptions, our city employees are dedicated, hard-working individuals who deserve to be compensated. We probably need to slow down the "raise" train and put the brakes on hiring, but the truth is we could fund a few more city positions just by dumping the overpaid consultants and lobbyists that are sucking us dry (another manifestation of the "we're too stupid to figure things out for ourselves" syndrome). Our government is paying consultants (former government officials) to lobby...our government. See anything odd about this picture?
Yes, our taxes are still too high and government spending in Mesquite could still do with another round of cuts. But blaming salaries is such an easy target that it's unlikely to be the right one.