And then there are hothouse economics. Organizations that do not produce revenue, and only receive it, are often accused of being a product of just that very thing. Particularly when they are perceived as being a bit more grasping than they ought to be. And, as their critics never tire of pointing out, if they had to compete in the marketplace, they couldn't possibly survive. Hothouse economics can only exist in those operations fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of things such as tax revenue. Which means that more often than not they have at least something to do with government.
And oftentimes organizations living off the good will and cash of the working public lose sight of exactly who it is that they owe for their existence. And within the hothouse environment of their little world some come to believe it is they who are responsible not only for their own existence, but the well-being of those who provide the cash that keeps them going as well. It is an entitled viewpoint, and one that requires a correction from the voters from time to time.
And we have recently seen some rather radioactive examples of this viewpoint in action:
The $300,000 Consultant: Apparently staff at City Hall is so busy these days working with things like committees and their assigned duties that focusing on creating a new General Plan might have to take a back seat. So in order to make up for this the taxpayers of Sierra Madre are being asked to cough up $300K in order to lighten the work load there a bit through the hiring of a very expensive consultant. Of course, since a new General Plan is probably the most important thing any municipal government will ever do, perhaps priorities can be rearranged and a little more time made available? In the process saving us a ton of cash?
City Supplied Funding for Resident Purchases of Solar Energy Systems: The financial panic gripping the State of California has apparently not quite permeated the hothouse atmosphere for some City Hall types, both elected and salaried. This example proclaims that the City should go into the Savings & Loan business, somehow scraping together millions of dollars in order to offer low interest loans to householders here so they can buy solar panels. And according to the Hothouse all an interested homeowner would have to do to get one of these loans from the Bank of Sierra Madre is allow the City to put a lien on their house. Of course, and as one wag observed, with the way the economy is going perhaps opening a City Hall Pawn Shop would serve the needs of the community better.
The Utility Users Tax Hike: There is a lot of concern in town about the circumstances under which this hike came into being, with many here wanting the topic put back on the ballot. The Hothouse put this tax hike on the ballot despite not having done audits for years. And when the audits were later completed, it was discovered that the Measure U ballot figures were wildly inaccurate. As the Pasadena Star News recently put it, "... the fact is that Sierra Madre voters were misled about the City's true financial condition during the 2008 Measure U campaign. They didn't have the correct facts in order to make the right decision." But the Hothouse is resisting a voter reappraisal of the UUT hike because they might need that additional money someday. For what, so that they can hire $300,000 consultants? Get into the Home Improvement Loan business? Better the money not be made available so that such foolish mistakes will not be made.
And then there is this:
City Of Sierra Madre, California
Invites applications for
Deputy Director Of
Community & Personnel Services
$59,392 - $74,231 annually
(currently in negotiations for a COLA increase effective July 1, 2009)
The Community and Personnel Services Department is a valued resource to the community. It is the department's goal to turn tax dollars and participant fees into fun and family orientated programs and services as well as administers and manages programs for the personnel of the City.
- Fully paid medical, dental, and vision insurance for the employee and eligible dependents.
- Death 7 disability, life insurance policies, short term disability and PERS level II survivor benefit.
- PERS retirement - City participates in the CalPERS retirement system at 2.5% @ 55. City pays full employee share and counts toward final retirement compensation. No participation in social security.
- EPMC: 8% paid by the City is reported as employee's income for calculating retirement benefit.
- Deferred Compensation programs are available with ICMA. City contributes $1,300 annually.
- Annual paid leave of 88 vacation hours (for first four years), 14 paid holidays, 80 administrative leave hours and 96 hours (2 working weeks) of sick leave.
- Alternative work schedule 9/80.
- Flexible spending accounts for medical and child-care expenses.
- Tuition reimbursement and computer loan programs available.
According to SalaryExpert.com here is what similar jobs are paying in the Sierra Madre area (sans benefits):
- Administrative Assistant: $41,157
- Office Manager: $48,899
- Clerical Supervisor: $43,722
- Accounts Payable Clerk: $33,438
- Medical Assistant: $32,255
- Preschool Teacher $31,870
- Certified Nurse Assistant: $25,269
Apparently life is good in the Hothouse. However, by not hiring at the going rate for an employee of this kind, the City is spending far more than it should. And if they're contemplating hiring an Assistant Minister of Fun for $70,000 or so a year, what about the rest of the hires? Were they also brought in at around $25,000 a year more than what the market dictates?
Yet more proof that City Hall needs to be kept on a short fiscal leash. Or, to paraphrase the movie Field of Dreams: "If you raise it, they will spend."