Nothing new at SPSA

Published 6:47 pm Thursday, April 28, 2011

Just when it seemed that the Southeastern Public Service Authority might have learned a little fiscal responsibility, members of the regional waste authority’s governing board have proved once again just how disconnected they are from the reality of life for the taxpayers of Hampton Roads.

During a meeting on Wednesday, the Authority’s board of directors discussed whether to give SPSA employees a 3-percent raise. Those employees are paid by Hampton Roads taxpayers via the tipping fees that their governments are charged for garbage disposal at the regional landfill or at the waste-to-energy plant operated by Wheelabrator Technologies under contract with SPSA.

Effectively, then, pay raises at SPSA result in added costs for the Authority’s member communities and, subsequently, higher taxes for the taxpayers who live in those communities.

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Some members of SPSA’s governing board pointed out the disconnect between adding to the fiscal burden of an agency that already is hurting for cash, especially in the midst of a stalled economy in which jobs, housing, home equity, savings and investments all are suffering.

Others, however, were solidly in favor of the raises, pointing out that their employees haven’t had them for a while and wondering how they would be able to retain experienced people on staff without the incentive of added cash in their paychecks.

We feel compelled to ask this: Where are those ostensibly frustrated employees planning to go? The job market isn’t exactly flooded with extra employment opportunities, and most folks with jobs right now are just happy to have them. Not having received a raise in a while is common enough to be pretty unremarkable lately.

Some might note that the proposed raises would account for only $23,000 in a proposed $49.2-million budget. The point is true, but it’s irrelevant. There’s only a difference in scale between a government agency ignoring the plight of taxpayers to the tune of $23,000 and $23 million. And any agency willing to turn up its nose at the lesser of those evils eventually will make the sort of bad decisions that will result in the greater evil.

In fact, with its decades-long history of lousy, expensive financial decisions, SPSA has made it abundantly clear that it’s just that sort of agency. Recent moves to sell off assets to clear some of the debt accumulated by those decisions might have led some to believe that the agency had reformed itself. But the fact that this item is even up for discussion proves that not much has changed, after all.