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1/25/2007
County workers' rich pay and benefits are ripe for reductions

From the News Journal:

Posted Thursday, January 25, 2007
OUR VIEW

A respected governmental consulting firm has confirmed what many New Castle County residents suspected for a long time: County government employees have it pretty darn good no matter how hard -- or how little -- they work during their 35-hour week.

The consultant's conclusion begs for a sharp and decisive response from County Council, the sooner the better.

But if the history of New Castle County government is any indication, then council will be dealing with the attitude of Councilman George Smiley, who insists that the budget not be balanced "on the backs of the employees."

Sorry, Councilman Smiley, but when salaries and benefits account for two-thirds of the county budget, and county employees earn as much or more than private, state and federal workers in the region, it's time to reassess the work force.

That might not result in balancing the budget on the employees' backs, but it should be a call to slow down some of the generous -- some would say outrageous -- benefits. Take the virtually automatic 5 percent annual step increase for the first 10 years of employment. That's coupled with annual cost-of- living raises, which recently hovered around 3 percent.

New Castle County Executive Chris Coons has begun laying a path to lower the runaway salary and benefits package. He has ordered a freeze on all hiring other than public safety, called for 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts and restricted overtime. He froze the pay of all his highly paid appointed officials.

It will take a concerted effort by the administration's union negotiators and union representatives themselves to rearrange county workers' pay and benefits.

Most county union contracts are up in 2008, so there is time for serious reflection. One of the most powerful sources of change in government is public opinion. And union leaders pretty much know the public's view of their members' compensation.

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"I am grateful for Bob's decade-long support for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail, which follows Philadelphia Pike and Market Street into Wilmington. His presence and influence at the birth of our Delaware organization to develop this trail and to have it designated as a National Historic Trail was a key factor in keeping our hopes for the trail alive and growing."

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