City employees deserve bonuses

Published 9:48 pm Thursday, October 22, 2009

It would be easy to be frustrated by Suffolk City Council’s decision Wednesday to spend a million dollars of the city’s budget surplus to give bonuses to most Suffolk employees. There is, after all, a reasonable argument that excessive tax collections impinge most directly on the people from whom the taxes were collected.

There is, however, another side to this story.

Suffolk employees have gone without any increase in pay since July 2008, and face many of the same recessionary pressures as do people who work in the private sector. Their cost of living continues to rise, their food and transportation expenses take bigger bites from their paychecks and their houses are worth less than they were three years ago.

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By all accounts, Suffolk’s city employees have been instrumental in helping the city to achieve the savings that resulted in the $3.5 million surplus. In so many small ways — from adjusting thermostats to taking on additional responsibilities to turning vehicles off, instead of allowing them to idle — the city’s more than 1,200 employees made the savings possible.

If council had chosen to make the bonus money available only to department heads, there would have been much less reason to support the move. Department heads help set policies and procedures, of course, but they cannot have the success Suffolk’s cost-cutting program experienced without strong support from the rank-and-file employees who work for them.

Those who argue that taxpayers deserved to have the million dollars returned to them ignore the fact that the real estate rate would fall by just slightly more than one cent per hundred dollars of assessed value if the bonus portion of the surplus had been put to that use. In this case, the benefit of more than 1,200 city employees who feel they are being taken care of is more important than the meager savings taxpayers would have received.