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Coons calls for freeze on managers' pay

New Castle County is finally following Councilman Bob Weiner’s initiative to perform a benchmarking study and then use it to cut county employees’ high salaries and liberal benefit packages.

From the Wilmington News Journal:

Coons calls for freeze on managers' pay

Cost cuts would affect 55 NCCo employees

By ANGIE BASIOUNY, The News Journal
Posted Saturday, January 20, 2007

New Castle County Executive Chris Coons is seeking a pay freeze for appointed employees, a move that would save taxpayers about $250,000 this year.

The pay freeze would apply to 55 employees in the executive branch who are not covered by union contracts. Those include department managers and administrators in the county's highest-paid positions, being paid salaries of more than $100,000.

Some support staffers are also included.

The pay freeze, which must be approved by County Council, is the latest in a series of cost-cutting measures Coons has taken in recent months to bring the budget under control.

The county's deficit is expected to reach $45 million by 2009. That's also when the county's $86 million cash reserves will be drained. The county is drawing down the reserves each year to cover a structural deficit in the budget.

In November, Coons announced a hiring freeze for all positions excluding public safety, 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts and no non-emergency overtime. The measures, combined with money saved on fuel and other items, will save the county about $9 million this year.

That will help offset a projected $10 million dip this year in revenue from real estate transfer taxes because of the downturn in the housing market.

Coons said he informed the appointed employees about the pay freeze before making the news public.

"Nobody's enthusiastic," he said. "Nobody likes to hear the money they were counting on in raises this year is not coming their way. This was not an easy step to take, but it was the next step I could take to rein in our expenses."

Coons pledged to return his own raise to county coffers this year.

His salary of $124,647 is set by a state board, which bases it on the Consumer Price Index. This year's raise has not been set; last year's hike was 4.4 percent.

Council President Paul Clark must introduce an ordinance to freeze the pay. If the measure passes, new legislation would be required to reinstate the raises in the future.

Councilman Timothy Sheldon welcomed the freeze, saying it was necessary. Salaries and benefits account for more than two-thirds of the county's operating budget.

"We're being disingenuous if we raise taxes and ask other people to do without, and not ask the same of our employees," Sheldon said.

A few weeks ago, council approved a request from Coons to lift the 5 percent cap on raising taxes in a single year, paving the way for a tax hike of greater than 5 percent in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, if the council decides it is necessary.
Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or

Prepare to pay the difference in county taxes


Ron Williams

This is not a good year to be a New Castle County elected official. Or appointed official. Or employee. Or taxpayer.

It won't be long before letters to the editor -- actually I've already seen a couple -- will start calling for a return of Tom Gordon's county administration. Gordon didn't raise a tax in his eight years in office, doled out millions to charitable organizations, and left the incoming Chris Coons administration a hefty surplus of funds.

But Gordon inherited all that money because of the insanely bullish housing market that pumped millions of real estate transfer tax revenues into the county's pockets. When Coons took over, the housing market was beginning to cool. Now it's more like ice.

Coons had to bite the bullet last year and cause the first property tax increase in 10 years, although it was a measly $16 that few noticed.

But that won't be the last tax hike, and they're not going to be 5 percent or $16. Think more like double-digit percentages and $100 or so.

Coons started down the painful road last week by announcing a wage and benefit freeze on his 55 political appointees. No one will feel sorry for his $100,000-a-year friends taking a wage freeze. Besides, it's a traditional political ploy by elected officials to show the common taxpaying folk that the big shots are taking their lumps first.

But that seldom works when it comes to Joe and Jane Taxpayer. They don't care if the administration had its pay cut in half. Just don't raise my taxes.

The long-expected New Castle County employee compensation report from Kennedy & Rand Consulting also was released last week, and it clearly shows county employees are flush with salaries and benefits.

Short of spewing out arithmetic, suffice it to say the report found New Castle County employees are extremely well-compensated -- better than state, federal and most private and public employees in the region and even the Washington, D.C., area.

Paid leave comparisons after 15 years' service exceed the federal government's, Delaware's and all surrounding states except Maryland, which is a half-day better.

Family health benefits in New Castle County are so attractive that 72 percent of employees elect family coverage compared to only 60 percent of federal employees.

And here's the kicker: Total annualized pay increases over five years average 6.5 percent, 2 percent more than the District of Columbia metro area; 2.24 percent more than Washington, D.C.; 2.30 percent more than average federal salaries; and 2.62 percent more than average national raises for all types of employees.

Coons' assignment, of course, just two years before election year, is to get the county employees unions to buy into pay and step decreases in their next contracts.

That's not going to be easy, no matter how overpaid the consultants say they are compared with everybody around them.

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