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5/28/2006
NCCo wages are over the national norm

OPINION
Ron Williams
News Journal

NCCo wages are over the national norm

05/28/2006

Having spent more than half my adult life in an occupation historically viewed as supportive of cheap labor and high net profits, it's rare that I criticize government salaries. Government pay traditionally has been anemic, bolstered only by heavy vacation time, excellent health benefits and union-guaranteed jobs for life.

But while most of us were busy tending to our own situations in life, a funny thing happened on the way to the county government building. Salaries are no longer anemic. Cops, for instance, make $80,000 a year. Office clerks can be at $60,000. Meanwhile, those generous vacations, heavily subsidized health benefits and jobs-for-life haven't changed. If anything, especially in New Castle County, life is good as a county employee. Maybe a little too good.

Ever wonder why you never hear of county layoffs? Maybe it's because a single layoff, under union contract arrangements, could cost the county well into a six-figure payoff.

The latest revelation, or re-revelation, that county employees are virtually guaranteed 8 percent or more annual salary increases for the first 10 years on the job has shocked even the most wild-eyed minimum wage zealots. When you factor in county pension and medical benefits, the annual cost of an employee is 10 percent to 12 percent, a county official estimated. And growing. Salaries account for two-thirds of the county budget. And you wonder why there's a tax increase?

It's unclear when these sweetheart contracts were settled on, but it's perfectly clear it's time to revisit them. At the current contract rates, a county truck mechanic will soon be at $150,000 a year plus benefits.

County Councilman Bob Weiner recently tried to bring the hospitable compensation issue to the table. He was booed until he withdrew his resolutions.

As I've said before, when I grow up I want to be a labor leader on the Delaware political scene. It's a cake walk of a job. You have no significant power base but you can intimidate the hell out of government leaders by making them think you do.

Weiner needs some support from the spineless, labor-lackeys on County Council to review and adjust this outrageous payroll system. But of course it ain't going to happen.

Coons has promised his personal version of a salary review summit. Let's watch and see how quickly he's intimidated by his labor buddies. We can't ever forget that these people are accomplished experts in figuring out how household ice picks relate to rubber car tires. Just ask Sen. Karen Peterson.

Cover those truck beds

As we head into this first unofficial summer weekend -- most of us at $3 a gallon -- reader Frederick Smith of Dover reminded me of a local highway hazard that's growing unabatedly.

If my personal experience is any indication, the incidents of dump trucks spewing their contents over the highways have increased dramatically in recent years. I already have a pimple crack in my two-year-old windshield from a dump truck pebble. Were it not for today's cars' super-strong windshield glass, I'd probably be on my fourth or fifth windshield fitting.

A month ago, a Pennsylvania dump truck-- its canvas bed cover flapping in the breeze on Del. 1 -- let loose two or three fist-size stones at my windshield. I called 911, as the police tell you to do. But the chances that truck got stopped, let alone fined, are slim to none.

There is a truck discharge law on the books that's not being enforced. Multiply my experiences by the thousands of others on the road who've had similar encounters with inconsiderate truck drivers.

Where are the cops?

Contact Ron Williams, assistant editor of the editorial pages, at rwilliams@delawareonline.com or (302) 324-2904.

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