Another disconnect

Published 9:26 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When the Suffolk City Council gave city employees bonuses, raised tax rates and added millions of dollars in new fees in the midst of a recession, it would have been easy for Suffolk citizens to think their City Council was special in its disregard for taxpayers. But we hereby offer evidence that profligacy is not checked at the city’s borders.

In May, the Southampton County Board of Supervisors gave county employees 2-percent pay raises at a time when few taxpayers were seeing any increase in pay. The funding for those raises came from a 1.3-percent increase in the county real estate taxes.

The amount of the pay raises and the tax increases were relatively small. But why should county employees be more deserving of pay increases than their private-sector neighbors, many of whom have suffered through the entire recession without raises and some of whom have lost their paychecks completely as they’ve been pushed out of jobs?

Email newsletter signup

In a more robust economy, where wages are generally rising, local government employees should certainly reap the rewards of a rising tide that lifts all boats. But when economic conditions are less than desirable, everyone should have to tighten their belts.

Now, the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors has given preliminary approval for 5-percent pay increases for its employees.

Isle of Wight’s decision seems to be as poorly timed as that of Southampton and that of Suffolk. All three face similar economic challenges. And both counties are still struggling with the fallout from International Paper’s October 2009 decision to close the Franklin mill, leaving them searching for a new economic identity.

One thing that makes Isle of Wight strikingly different, however, is the fact that taxpayers there were saddled with a whopping 25-percent increase in real estate taxes this year. Considering the huge increase in tax rate, it’s hard to think of the action taken by Isle of Wight’s supervisors as anything short of downright outrageous.

Comparatively, Suffolk’s decision to award $1 million in bonuses out of a $4.1-million surplus — discovered soon after a six-cent tax increase went into effect — might seem a minor thing.

In truth, though, all three situations highlight the disconnect between taxpayers and their government. And they provide evidence that the chasm continues to grow between the reality where taxpayers live and the seemingly fantastical place occupied by government administrators and local elected officials.