Roy Exum: Longevity? About $1.44 A Week

Monday, August 12, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

A newspaper’s review of Hamilton County government’s finances has just found that in the past five years, automatic salary increases for longevity pay – “a guaranteed structured pay increase based on length of services” – has amounted to $4.6 million in benefits to many of the 1,800 county employees. Put me down as one who thinks that is a nice little perk.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press, in a page one story that pointed out there has just been one across-the board-salary increase between 2010 and 2014, explained that any employee who stays with the county for five years or more, gets an automatic $75 increase in longevity, or loyalty, pay every year. It’s retroactive – one $375 gift after five years and then $75 more for each year of service that follows.

What $75 a year means to a longtime employee is $6.25 more a month – let’s say a cheeseburger at Hardee’s -- and that’s before taxes. Break it down further and that is roughly “a buck-44” each week over the course of a year. Predictably, our County Mayor and Commissioners immediately started dodging media bullets, saying something along the lines of “maybe we ought to look at that.”

In my way of thinking there are far more important matters for our county leaders to worry about. Mayor Jim Coppinger explained to Times Free Press reporter Louis Brogdon that longevity raises have been part of the county’s warp-and-weave for “a long, long time” and while the formula is even spelled out in the employee handbook, that it doesn’t mean it is not worthy of a review. Face it, $4.6 million over five years is still nearly a million dollars a year.

In my opinion, Hamilton County government operates on a pretty lean budget. I don’t know of any city or county that isn’t strapped for cash. The proposed budget that Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke just handed to the City Council is different with his new ideas of running the city, yet it doesn’t appear lavish by any means.

What both the County Commission and the City Council must do is revamp and modernize our political landscape and, as I have begged repeatedly, pursue a metro or home-rule form of government. I don’t care what you call it, but until our city and county combine certain services in a very obvious way to reduce costs, our community will continue to fight financial thirst.

The County Commission forged ahead with its Employee Health Clinic last week – the city already has a beautiful $4.1 million facility – and the question was raised about a possible merger. A county expert said it was not feasible, saying there was too large a difference in what each facility provided. That’s one way to look at it, but a better approach may have been to see how we might eliminate those “differences.”

I promise this is true: When our political leaders dramatically change their stance and search for ways working together will succeed, instead of hiding behind their fears and prejudices in a way that now chokes our nation as well as our cities. Then progress will be inevitable. Simply study the costs, recognize the benefits, and a partnership will produce a win-win result every time.

This I cannot understand -- if types of home rule have been such a Godsend to the operating costs in the metro areas of Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville, why there is such heated resistance between the leaders of Chattanooga and Hamilton County? Check that; I’ve been told there are monumental reasons the two factions will never pound out an alliance, but each disappointing theory makes me want to cry. Our community should buck some disturbing trends and learn to live peacefully with one another as neighbors.

Rather that wallow in the discord a story about a $75 annual “bonus” for longevity creates in the county, or $1.44 per week for those who qualify, we should instead modernize and streamline a public works model that would be more cost efficient, consumer friendly and – get this – will one day even assist smaller municipalities like Signal Mountain, East Ridge and Red Bank After all, those citizens pay county taxes in addition to town taxes. I know the residents of Lookout Mountain, with lofty tax assessments, pay heavy county taxes and, in return, receive very little in county services. It is no secret and is hardly fair.

Let’s shake that tree. While we are at it, let’s take a hard look at what the city and the county do to fund Erlanger and Children’s Hospital. The County Commission allocates $1.5 million while the city now does absolutely nothing. Compared to any other mid-sized metro area in the nation, what is done by the county and city governments in Chattanooga is absolutely shameful.

Our elected officials should address local government’s active participation in public health (our Level 1 trauma center) rather than running from it. The biggest problem is that they have no money to do so. That said, what steps did Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville already make to address the needs those metro areas have today?

Just like the longevity question of $6.25 per employee per month, “maybe we out to take a look at that.”

royexum@aol.com



How Is Corker Different Than Trump? - And Response

Corker has voted with Trump 90 percent of the time. It's difficult to see how Corker will play the maverick card with a straight face, but he'll try and succeed with those who believe politicians regardless of the facts.   Though it does give one pause. If Trump hadn't been called out on so many positions, does anyone believe Corker would be grandstanding now? What's ... (click for more)

Confronting Racism In Public Education

Like most Americans, we have been bothered by the news in recent days. And as we have struggled to understand the racial issues that continue to confront our nation, we are left to ponder the issue even more within the context of public education.  The vast majority of Americans know that racism is wrong. It is one of the few issues on which almost everyone can agree. We ... (click for more)

City Seeks To Be Removed As Trustee Of Confederate Cemetery

Mayor Andy Berke on Friday said he has asked City Attorney Wade Hinton, on behalf of the city of Chattanooga, to file the necessary paperwork "to confirm the city is no longer listed as a trustee of a Confederate Cemetery on East Third Street." Mayor Berke said, “Our action today makes it clear that the city of Chattanooga condemns white supremacy in every way, shape and ... (click for more)

Judy Kay Peer, 69, Killed When Train Hits Her Car At Hamill Road Crossing In Hixson

Judy Kay Peer, 69, was killed on Friday night when a train struck her car in Hixson on Friday night. Ms. Peer, a Hixson resident, was driving a 2015 Hyundai Sonata. Police said she  was traveling west on Hamill Road and had stopped at the railroad crossing. The gates were extended with flashing lights and a sounding bell. A train that was traveling northbound on ... (click for more)

Ty Boeck Scores Three TDs As Soddy Daisy Wins 35-32

Justin Barnes had a tough time wiping the smile off of his face late Friday night at Soddy Daisy’s Robert Talaska Field. His Trojans had just picked up a 35-32 victory over arch-rival Red Bank in a non-district game, but he’s been involved in three of these games as a player and now five as a coach.  He won all three as Red Bank’s quarterback before graduating in 1999 and ... (click for more)

Defending Champ Farragut Clips Bears 27-21 In OT

CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Farragut has one of the nation’s top-rated senior tight ends in the country and the Admirals weren’t shy about utilizing their primary offensive weapon against Bradley Central on Friday night at Bear Stadium. Jacob Warren, the super-talented 6-foot-6, 226-pound receiver caught four touchdown passes that included the game-winner in the Admirals’ 27-21 overtime ... (click for more)