Timing is everything.
That’s why we’re baffled by the conversation and vote we witnessed during the Grand Traverse County board of commissioners’ meeting Wednesday. In a 5-2 decision, a group of mostly self-professed fiscal conservatives and small business owners granted a round of pay hikes that would’ve raised a few eyebrows even in boom years.
But in the midst of a nationwide, pandemic-driven economic storm, it’s tone deaf at best.
Do they not see the thousands of taxpaying families in their own community who would feel blessed this holiday season to simply have a job? Or the thousands more who missed raises and endured cuts in pay or hours this year as our economy shuddered? What about all the rest who spent the year saving what money they can put their hands on because they’re sure there’s another economic shoe to drop in the coming months?
Even a brief discussion with any restaurant owner in the county about the gut-wrenching decisions they face should be more than enough evidence to dissuade any elected official from steering a raise into their own pocket.
And what about the dozens of county employees who those same commissioners decided earlier this year shouldn’t receive hazard pay for their work as COVID-19 spread into our community? Or the hundreds of other county employees who will receive small raises — nothing close to the 6.5 percent the board granted to County Administrator Nate Alger, on top of $3,000 they gave him in May?
The commissioners earned the bi-partisan backlash that erupted following their choice to nearly double their own pay, and dole out salary hikes to administrators and department managers most private sector employees could only dream of.
Most of the criticism also landed precisely on target.
Few contest the fact that many county employees, administrators included, have been doing a pretty good job under adverse circumstances. Many probably deserve a boost to their pocketbook.
Still, there is no logical argument that could justify such poor timing, and what appears to be caviler treatment of taxpayer dollars.
It’s the kind of move that makes several commissioners’ past overtures about fiscal responsibility look like little more than lip service.
Anybody with an ounce or two of experience around property tax-funded local budgets knows the brunt of the financial blow to local coffers typically lags 12 to 18 months behind the first wave through the private sector.
This time around that budgetary pummeling likely will materialize as accelerated shifts of costs from state programs to local governments.
The board’s decision hits a bureaucratic trifecta we haven’t witnessed in some years: it’s tone deaf, short-sighted and poorly timed.
We don’t expect perfect decisions from our elected officials in imperfect times, but we sure do hope for thoughtful ones.