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Hey, Waynesboro: We’ve got to do right by our city employees

waynesboroCity of Waynesboro employees – EOC dispatchers, public works employees, police and fire – often have to take second jobs to be able to make ends meet.

It’s so bad that Waynesboro City Council member Terry Short Jr. recalls looking at an online job board recently and seeing that 70 percent of the city positions being advertised were at or below the poverty level for a family of four.

Makes you proud to be a Waynesboro taxpayer, doesn’t it?

“Our workforce has been neglected. From a compensation standpoint, literally, you could make more hourly working at a fast-food joint or at a Walmart than you could in a tenured position with the City of Waynesboro, which is crazy,” said Short, who is leading an effort to get City Council to address this deficiency.

Right now, it looks like the political winds are headwinds for Short.

Vice Mayor Lana Williams, playing the role of fiscal conservative, and not very well, introduced a property tax rate of 83 cents per $100 assessed value at last week’s City Council meeting.

The bogus so-called “equalization” effort would pare down City Manager Mike Hamp’s proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year by $2.7 million, putting on the chopping block an increase in funding for the city school system and a 3 percent pay increase for city employees.

Now, keep in mind, this proposed pay increase for city employees doesn’t address the years of neglect from previous posturing conservative City Councils, who on the one hand have no problem not paying employees anything resembling a fair wage, while on the other having no problem committing millions of your tax dollars toward bailing out political allies, as the City Council did in 2011 with the purchase of $3.475 million of scrub brush located adjacent to Interstate 64 that has devolved into a bottomless multimillion-dollar money pit for the past decade, with no prospect for return on investment even on the distant horizon.

The “equalization” effort – intended, purportedly, to “equalize” the tax burden on city property owners whose home values increased during the most recent real-estate reassessment – would save the average city homeowner a whopping $11.67 a month, at the expense of emaciating our schools and leaving the bulk of our city employees at or near the poverty line, forced to work second jobs to be able to make ends meet, or both.

The 90-cent tax rate that Hamp had based his proposed budget on, mind you, doesn’t even get city employees back to square. The 3 percent pay raise that Hamp had included in that budget still leaves the bulk of the city workforce well below what would be the recommended pay band for municipal employees in cities our size.

Translation: it would be a move – a baby step – in the right direction, but still not doing the right thing.

The faux conservative majority on Waynesboro City Council can’t even pretend to take a baby step in the direction of doing the right thing.

And if it’s possible, that’s not the worst of it.

In the name of conservatism, the majority last year authorized borrowing $1.7 million from the city’s fund balance, basically a rainy-day account, to balance the budget in anticipation of the hit to the local economy that was expected with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“And so now, we’ve had a couple public hearings and advertised rates, and now you’ve got a couple folks on Council that say, well, you know, borrowing from our fund balance felt so good last year, let’s borrow another $1.4 million to plug this year’s doughnut hole,” Short said.

In the name of fake conservative politics, then, these folks are on the verge of borrowing a cumulative $3.1 million from the fund balance – in Short’s words, “pretending to march ahead under the guise and the illusion that that’s conservatism, which couldn’t be further from the truth.”

And, wait for it – yep, we’re still not to the nadir yet.

The fake conservatives want to use CARES Act dollars to buttress the fund balance withdrawals to balance a bare-bones city budget, which, interestingly enough, just last year was a no-no, when the Trump administration and Senate Republicans made it clear that CARES Act funds would not be used as bailouts for Democrat-run cities and states awash in seas of red from years of bad budgeting.

“Now you get a new administration that comes in, and now you got a group of folks who want to say that they’re conservative who want to basically not use this fund these funds, which are recovery funds, to do what they’re intended, which is to recover,” Short said.

“We should be using these funds to invest in our community, which actually ends up reducing the future long term compounded cost to our local tax base, because we’ve invested in ourselves. We should use these funds to recover, to invest in our businesses, invest in our people invest in our capital, infrastructure. That’s what we ought to be doing,” Short said.

Instead, what we’re doing is posturing.

A line of usual suspects spoke out at last week’s City Council meeting threatening to run candidates against anyone on the current Council who would vote for a 90-cent tax rate, which, fine, because a similar effort can be waged at the neanderthals who seem dead set on starving the school system and keeping city employees at the poverty level.

“These are these are your neighbors. These are the people that you go to church with. These are the people that you talk to at the grocery store. They’re the folks that your kids play with their kids at the ball field,” Short said. “I mean, that is the insanity of it, is that this notion that it’s some corporation, some villain corporation, that is just out there for the almighty dollar.

“What we’ve seen over the last month or so at 83 cents is theatrical, and it’s a lie,” Short said. “It’s a flat-out lie to folks that I think that they may be trying to market the narrative to, but it’s a lie. It’s not conservative, it’s actually it’s absolutely straight up regressive, and it is anti-conservative, and it is reckless.

“We’re not building an amusement park with 90 cents. These are core functions of government. This is keeping our head above water,” Short said.

Which is all we’ve been able to do for the past 15 years with the do-nothings in charge – keep our heads above water.

Thing is there, we’re not only running out of buckets, but the people who’d otherwise be bailing us out are working the nightshift at Walmart and DoorDashing to be able to pay their bills.

Story by Chris Graham

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