Pay plan on the agenda

Pay plan on the agenda

Pay hikes for elected officials is a vexing issue, particularly during hard times.

A 2 percent annual pay raise for public officials isn't going to outrage too many taxpayers.

But the proposed increases for elected Champaign County officials once again demonstrate the disconnect between public and private finance.

Government hands out raises to its employees, but too many public officials think it's unfair not to do so. Once the increases are in effect, they worry about how to pay for them.

Private enterprise gives employees raises when it has the money. When it doesn't, employees stay right where they are or take a pay cut.

This touchy subject has come up again because County Administrator Deb Busey has proposed increases in pay for the county clerk, treasurer and sheriff. Her proposal is pending before the county board.

Busey's plan calls for the county clerk and treasurer, who now are paid $86,639 annually, to receive 2 percent increases for each of the four years in new terms starting Dec. 1. By Dec. 1, 2017, the two officials would be paid $93,781.

The sheriff's salary would increase from $108,338 to $117,269 over the same period.

Finally, the part-time post of county board chairman would increase from $29,274 to $30,457 on Dec. 1, 2016. Busey's suggested raise for the board chairman is complicated by the fact that as county administrator she works directly for the full board and indirectly for the board chairman.

This is not an easy issue. Elected officials are prohibited from having their pay increase after the beginning of new terms of office. The consequence is that bodies like the county board feel compelled to approve multi-year increases before that new term begins.

It's no secret, of course, that state and local governments are operating on tight budgets thanks to revenue shortfalls that continue in the face of a lagging recovery. There is no indication when the economy will fully rebound, so this revenue drought is open-ended.

In that context, how wise is it to voluntarily increase the costs of an already cash-strapped county government? Or state government? Or municipality?

But on it goes because government operates differently than private enterprises that can't survive for long by spending money without making it first.

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