Lincolnton’s City Council heard during a budget work session that cuts might have to be made to public employees’ spousal insurance plans to save around $250,000 for the city coffers.
City Manager Jeff Emory told council members that the city has faced a 25-percent increase in the cost of premiums, and that taking insurance from only those city employees’ spouses who are offered insurance at their places of business will cover some much needed savings for the city.
That may be true — the expected savings are just shy of 1 percent of the city’s proposed $28,214,995 budget — but slicing benefits for employees, even if it only impacts 35 individuals, as Emory said, isn’t an ideal solution.
Coincidentally, or maybe providentially, at that same meeting council members discussed the recent resignation of Business and Community Development director Brad Guth, the search for his replacement and the future of the department, which is proposed to commandeer $218,300 in the upcoming fiscal year — just shy of the $250,000 mark the city would save by making changes to the insurance plan.
Mayor John Gilleland suggested folding the department into another organization with a similar focus and, even though he did not have public support from the majority of council members and his notion that the Chamber of Commerce is an appropriate landing place for Business and Community Development’s responsibilities is misguided, the elimination of a department with a fairly limited mission that controls a sizable amount of taxpayer dollars is a far better option than saddling public employees with extra expenses.
Guth told council members, at their March 6 meeting, that the primary business of Business and Community Development, which had two full-time employees before Guth’s resignation, is real estate development with a focus on increasing “retail, restaurants and residential” usage. Given the state of the local and national economy, the entire focus of the city should be attracting industry. Especially industries that will need to use millions upon millions of gallons of city water.
The shops and restaurants will follow those jobs, not the other way around. The type of growth Business and Community Development hopes to see can’t be forced into existence. It will flourish when there’s a strong tax base and city residents are working good jobs.
Certainly, there is a place for business and community development in the city’s overall plan, but if the financial situation is as dire as Emory has described, we have far bigger concerns than which rock ‘n roll band plays Hog Happenin’ or when the next face jugs will grace our streets.
The city council has some difficult decisions to make, it’s true. But the men and women who provide the services city residents depend on shouldn’t be the first to feel the sting of austerity.