To the Editor:
As a reformer, I believe taxpayers should have a better understanding of our local government, especially labor costs. If taxpayers knew where the monies were going, the Democratic Party that for decades has been responsible for every dollar that left Town Hall, which has put our town in financial peril and continues flowing out like a tsunami, would be thrown out of power, which brings me to this commentary.
Over the past several months, I have been submitting questions to the Clerk’s Office, but when I submitted recent questions, I was informed “the data was not kept in the usual course of business by our town,” but I could have a copy of the budgets at 15 cents a sheet, which makes looking for a few answers very timely and difficult for most taxpayers.
I wanted to know if our town contributed pension amounts on overtime, including $47 per hour for police details. We just learned the Fire Department was $2.5 million over budget, the equivalent of $30,000 in overtime per employee, which would also mean our town had to contribute an additional $300,000 toward their pension based at 12 percent. Not only is that a high percent, but the whole matter is a moral outrage when you consider the multitude of financial hardships residents are having. In fact, I remember our pro-union mayor once saying if budgets went over, “heads would roll?” I guess not. Also, I wanted to know how many town workers had retired but are back on the payroll in other capacities. In addition, I wanted to know how much of our approximately $90 million budget was going toward the pension system and if any town workers had the option of opting out of Social Security, which we need more Americans to contribute to.
A few months back, I did get answers regarding the amount of sick time that had been used and the amount of longevity bonuses that were paid out last year, excluding the school department, and explained it in a commentary I referred to as “pencil whipped.” The used sick time cost taxpayers the equivalent of 3,000 days of labor when you include related overtime, and longevity bonuses were the equivalent of approximately $1,200 per worker; hundreds of needless thousands. The reality here is there is a profound failure of communication that may indeed be deliberate in an attempt to keep residents in the dark, but there is a solution.
Some older readers may not be very familiar with computers and not know what a search engine refers to like “Google,” so let me illustrate this much needed means that is essential for reform and would expose the special interests of our town. First, a search engine searches documents on the World Wide Web for a specific word or phrase in which detailed comprehensive information is given, and that’s basically it; whatever you want to know, just type it in. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of such a process that would be exclusively for our town that would be very simple to accomplish.
Let’s examine some questions residents would ask: How many town workers are related to one another? The names of every worker past and present would appear, last name first. How many departments are there? You would even get a breakdown of the budgets, including number of employees. How many departments went over budget? You would also get an explanation of related costs. What is the cost of a health care plan? You would get detailed information, including retirees and contributions as well as insight into the plans. How many traffic citations were given out? You would see the amount the town took in, including a list of citations. What is the cost, including overtime, to provide 15 holidays, three personal days and up to 32 vacation days? Also, a detailed explanation of our town’s $84 million unfunded pension liability, including the names, number of retirees and pension amounts. You may want to know how much had been contributed to their pensions and how much had been paid out to date and, last but not least, detailed insight into every severance package that had been paid out.
In closing, when residents realize the provisions in the contracts and related costs, they would definitely rebel against the Democratic machine that has sold every family in town down the river and demand a multitude of cost-saving alternatives. But for now, we will all be kept in the dark in order to protect the special interests by order of the special interests.
Peter A. Filippi III
Founder of the Johnston Taxpayers Association