Coastal Voices: Start sacrifices at the top

By Dave Mason June 27, 2011 05:36 pm

Recently The Daily Triplicate reported city and School Board budgets that will cut positions or pay, respectively.

Currently both the Del Norte County Employees Association and the Sheriff’s Employee Association are in negotiations with Del Norte County about proposed cuts to employer contributions to employee retirement, as well as all other terms of our contracts.

This week, County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina told all of the county employees that employee concessions were necessary to balance the budget, and that he was unable to reach an agreement with the associations, implying an impasse in negotiations.

We were always willing to consider the county’s proposed cuts as part of our overall contract negotiation. The CAO also said that if we do not concede, he will recommend to the Board of Supervisors that most workers be reduced to 35 hours a week (the equivalent of a 12.5 percent cut in pay), along with layoffs in law enforcement and detention facilities.

A cut of this magnitude to public services will have a dramatic negative impact on our community.

Our employees have always been willing to help the county to make ends meet. We took work furloughs in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. And our workers are willing to continue sacrificing to help the county make ends meet, because they know how much our community depends on public services.

Whether you take your kids to county parks for Cub Scout camp, ask the county to tear down a burnt-out house, seek child support from your ex, call a county sheriff’s deputy to report a crime, seek mental health counseling for yourself or a relative, or just drive down a county-maintained road, everyone depends on the services that the county provides.

We know that what we do every day matters to keeping this community healthy and strong. And we do it gladly, because our families live here too.

The cuts the CAO is proposing are irresponsible. They would cripple our county departments’ ability to operate. On top of that, the impact on the people providing the services will be appalling. It is an embarrassment already that so many county workers are paid so little that they qualify for public assistance, that even with insurance many cannot afford to buy medicine or pay the deductible for medical treatment.

Some cannot even buy food for their kids on the paychecks the county gives them for working hard every day to make our community a better place to live, and depend on food stamps to feed their family.

If these cuts go through, there will be dozens more foreclosures and longer lines for food at Rural Human Services and social services.

What we are asking the county to do is make sure that this year, members of the Board of Supervisors take the same pay cuts that we take, unlike past years where they have given themselves pay increases while we make sacrifices.

The most recent salary survey showed that compared to other jurisdictions, county workers are underpaid 10-25 percent across the board. Therefore we are also asking the county to promise to pay our workers a living wage when the general fund recovers.

Sacrifice should be an emergency measure, not standard operating policy. When it is necessary, it should start at the top.

David Mason is chapter president of the Del Norte County Employees Association and county code enforcement officer.