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Tough Decisions

By Staff | Dec 9, 2010

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going” – a phrase that everyone has heard at one point or another in their lives, to be sure.

You can apply that phrase to a lot of situations, be it in an athletic competition, everyday work challenge, or even sitting on a governing body, struggling with decisions that are guaranteed to be unpopular, second guessed and often ridiculed.

Here’s a perfect example of the latter.

Last week, the Palo Alto County Compensation Board recommended a two percent raise for the elected officials, citing their excellent and conscientious work for the citizens of the county, and noting that no raises had been given the past few years.

One observation by a board member cited the good economy in the county and prosperity of farmers in the past year. Another comment offered to support a raise cited state lawmakers giving themselves a raise, while county government got nothing.

State Senator Jack Kibbie enlightened me on that point concerning state salaries. Under the Code of Iowa, if lawmakers were to vote themselves a pay raise, it could not go into effect until the next general election.

“No raise was voted in at the end of the last session,”?Senator Kibbie stated. “The last raise was voted on back in 2005. In fact, we reduced 22 days from this last legislative session to save money for the taxpayers, and the Governor implemented a 10 percent across the board salary cut.”

It costs roughly $35,000 a day to operate the Iowa House and Senate when they are in session, and each lawmaker receives about $100 a day in per diem expenses. Reducing 22 days from the last session saved the state a large chunk of change – no doubt about it.

The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors talked about the salary recommendation Tuesday, and it sounded like a tough decision lies ahead for those gentlemen.

It was noted that first, the economy may not be as rosy as one might think – even though the farming sector had good crops last year.

Consider this – there are roughly 1,900 owners of farmland in the county, but there are around 250 actual active farmers working the soil in the county. If you consider there are roughly 9,000 residents in the county, that’s only a small portion of the taxpayers to base such a comment on, even though it appears accurate.

The county does not receive all of the taxes it collects – schools and cities come first out of the pie. The supervisors face the unpleasant dilemma of funding increasing insurance costs for their employees and looking at continued salary freezes, while school districts and other governmental entities appear able to grant salary increases for personnel, by requesting more in their budgets from taxes.

Supervisor Keith Wirtz was passionate – “The times are not better. We’ve worked hard with our 36 cents out of every dollar of taxes, but other entities keep raising their spending. I’m thinking it’s time that others step up to the plate and cut back.”

“Somewhere, this entire train has to stop,” Board Chair Jerry Hofstad said. “It just has to stop.”

There are very few people in the private sector who are seeing raises this year, and they are making the cuts they must make, like it or not. For everyone’s sake, it appears time to make the tough decision and hunker down to ride out the storm.