Billy Davis column 8-24-12

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 24, 2012

Spreading wealth rewards mediocrity, punishes achievers

After two years of county budget meetings, it’s a shame what has happened to Panola EMA director Daniel Cole and his county office.

For the second year in a row, Cole came before supervisors with a plan to give pay raises for three employees — he excluded himself each time — in the county’s civil defense office in Sardis.

This year he wanted to raise the salary of deputy director Terry Bryant from $34,100 to $40,000 and office secretary Tam Hawkins from $28,676 to $32,500.

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Panola EMA also employs part-time employee Ed Scruggs and Cole suggested adding $2,500 to the part-time salary budget to allow Scruggs to work more hours during the year.

The total for all three proposed pay raises is $12,224 annually.

Maybe that’s too much or maybe all three have earned it, but that’s not the shame in this budgeting saga. The shame is that supervisors can’t shake off the noble-sounding, spread-the-wealth-around idea that if 200 county employees can’t get a pay raise, then none of them can.

What’s also a shame is that Cole can now be certain of what he probably suspected a year ago: staying within your budget will benefit not you nor your employees, but other county departments. That’s because supervisors said Tuesday they planned to raid Cole’s budget to help pay for the $75 pay raises.

Four budget items that totaled $76,650 would have been slashed to $8,000 until Supervisor John Thomas convinced his colleagues to leave $20,000 for the civil defense budget.

When Cole requested the same pay raises a year ago, supervisors asked him to cut his equipment budget in half to pay for them. The pay raises were already within his budget but Cole cut the budget item anyway.

The pay raises never materialized.

Cole found out he was done dirty when then-board president Gary Thompson read a prepared statement aloud announcing there would be no pay raises.

This year, Cole isn’t alone in his pay raise requests. The sheriff’s department is also requesting pay raises just for its patrol deputies based on years of experience.

Supervisors have also discussed pay raises in the road department if road manager Lygunnah Bean leaves several job openings unfilled.

It would be downright unpatriotic if the Board of Supervisors refuses to allow Sheriff Dennis Darby to move forward with a long-needed pay scale that bases pay on years of experience and rank. The proposed pay scale unveiled this week shows a deputy with 10 years of experience would be paid $30,600 annually — still less pay than supervisors receive each year.

The suggestion of road department pay raises is an interesting dilemma indeed. Supervisors approved a similar move in the Solid Waste Department in May 2011, when the salaries of two former employees were spread among the remaining employees.

Allow me to back up a little. “Spread” is a subjective word, since one Solid Waste employee is now paid $9,000 more a year. Five other employees got much lower pay raises that, all together, total $9,000 a year.

The same letter that turned down Cole’s pay raise request also justified the Solid Waste pay raises on the grounds that employees were not replaced and the workload was spread around.

Well, if it’s good enough for a garbage truck driver, why not the man driving the gravel truck, too?

For two straight years supervisors have taken a hatchet to Cole’s budget, especially for equipment purchases. So it’s pretty clear county officials fail to appreciate emergency preparedness, which means being ready for a myriad of emergencies that — hopefully — may never happen.  

What’s worse, comments aimed at Cole and his department at recent budget meetings were juvenile and unprofessional  — way out of bounds for a public board meeting.

If I was Daniel Cole, I’d tell them all “good luck” and get a job elsewhere. But let me assure you, Daniel Cole wants to stay.

He wants to stay for the same reason I’m staying at a job with reduced work hours and no recent pay raise: this is my home and I love what I do.

At least where I work bosses let us know they appreciate our work, even if it doesn’t show up in our paychecks right now.

Daniel Cole isn’t asking for a $75 pay raise.

He and Sheriff Darby are seeking salary adjustments they think are long overdue — a token of appreciation for employees who have been underpaid and under appreciated for way too long.

And even after the raises, most of them will still be paid less than our supervisors.