Cliches are cliches for a reason. Maybe its because they are true. One that comes to mind these days is “you can’t fight City Hall.”
Our elected officials passed a budget last week that ballooned a million bucks between first and second readings. The extra million for the $17.3 million fiscal year 2021-22 budget is coming from the fund balance. In laymen’s terms, the “fund balance” is the city’s savings account. The way I see it, the city is spending more money than its going to get from the pockets of our taxpaying citizens.
The extra million, if I understand the explanation correctly, is going to be used to provide $600,000 for salary and benefits to the 130 employees of East Ridge. I believe that money is on top of the three percent across the board salary increase that was included in the original budget. The three-percent increase amounts to between $200,000 and $300,000.
Officials explained we are going to hire a couple more cops and pave some roads in the $17.3 million budget, too.
The big salary increase, I was told, is justified because the City of East Ridge has a salary structure for its employees that can’t compete with what other city’s in the region are offering. My question to the officials was “have we had wholesale defections of our employees, including fire and police?” The answer, of course, is no.
If our city employees want to seek a better future in another job, have at it.
From where I sit, East Ridge employees have it pretty darned good. They may or may not have a competitive salary. I know they have a great insurance plan with low deductibles and low maximum out-of-pocket expenses. During the Obama administration, the East Ridge insurance plan was called a “Cadillac” plan.
Add to it, the amount of personal time accrued in any given pay period. Tack on the whole “leave buy back” multi-tiered system that is exploited by a handful of employees that results in the city writing four and five-figure checks each year to some employees on their anniversary date with decades of tenure, and I would say working for the city is a pretty good gig.
Here’s what really gets my goat: there is no such thing as a performance review in the City of East Ridge. I was told that years ago a former city manager tried to institute it but it didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? Never got a really good answer for it. As an aside, putting time clocks in city buildings for employees to punch in and out on the clock didn’t work either. Funny how two widely accepted business practices that management uses to hold employees accountable just won’t work in East Ridge.
I’ve lived here all of my life. I would venture to guess that the City of East Ridge is just like any other organization, public or private. You’ve got excellent employees, some that are good and others that just show up and get paid. Yet, our elected officials and senior staff have no desire, it seems, to identify good employees and reward them, leaving the not-so-good to get it in gear and improve their work product, whether it’s in sanitation, animal services, codes enforcement or public safety.
What’s more, I’ve got a sneaky feeling the recent assessment of homes in East Ridge where values increased about 30 percent is going to lead to a “windfall” for city government. A certified property tax rate is going to come down the pike in coming weeks that will drop the rate from the current $1.338 per $100 of assessed value to about $1.03 to $1.10. Never mind the revenues for the new budget were based on the current rate. I fear the city will vote by resolution – that’s one vote folks – to keep the current rate which will be tantamount to a 30 percent property tax increase.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope city officials read this and consider it. But, many city leaders hold close an idea that most people who live here just don’t care. They’ve spoken up in years’ past and got no action. They are alienated from the system. They feel like their voice doesn’t matter.
I recently was sent a clipping from the Chattanooga Times-Free Press dated Sept. 21, 1999. In it, the mayor and council pointed out the need to institute performance reviews for city employees.
“I don’t think we’ve held employees accountable,” the TFP quoted Councilwoman Debbie Tripplett as saying.
Councilman John Tilley said in the article “It’s hard to take any disciplinary action when a performance review record does not exist here.” He added that the city needed to use time clocks as well.
Well, 22 years have come and gone and we still have no system to evaluate our employees.
When the council interviewed the finalists for the City Manager position a couple years ago, each one of them said they would institute performance reviews. That included the one they hired, current City Manager Chris Dorsey.
I think the cliche that “you can’t fight City Hall” is dead on. I might add that in East Ridge, you can’t fight City Hall from the inside.
After years and years of paying close attention to the workings of East Ridge City Government, I’ve come to the conclusion that if the employees of this city don’t want something to happen, it ain’t happening.
How’s this for a cliche: “The tail wags the dog.”