Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bonanza Column 180 – Public Service or Indentured Servitude?

A recent letter to the Bonanza took the "spendthrifts" on the IVGID Board of Trustees to task for considering a 3 percent raise in salary for District staff, characterizing the salary and benefits of the staff as "generous."

I'm writing this from Hawai'i, where furloughs for state employees including teachers and librarians have resulted in cutbacks in services, closing of libraries, cuts in school hours for education and activities, and a general decline in public services, statewide. I suppose we could do that in IVGID – cut back on salaries and staff, have less frequent garbage pickup, close the rec center, tennis courts, and golf or skiing a couple of days a week, and generally skimp, but I'd be willing to bet almost anything that the same people that are complaining about the rec fee and staff benefits would demand that the level of services be maintained. You can't have it both ways.

Personally, I'm glad that we are able to provide what I think are adequately competitive compensation packages to IVGID staff – they provide outstanding services, are genuinely customer-centered, and are on the whole a cut above most municipal employees, and that goes from the folks who pick up the trash and keep the grounds to the executive level, in my experience without exception. IVGID has taken some steps to cut costs without diminution of services, e.g., by offering various food services to local restaurants and caterers if they want to bid for the opportunity to provide them. The General Manager and the staff have been appropriately cognizant of and conservative about needed renovations and improvements while being clear what would be lost if these are not done. I know something about management in both the public and private sectors, and I think IVGID does one of the better jobs I've seen of managing money, facilities, and people.

As I pointed out in last week's column, the facilities in the Village contribute both directly and indirectly to our property values, and to the quality of life here. The sentiment of a significant portion, maybe even a majority, of residents, against affordable housing makes it necessary to compensate District staff who cannot afford to live here for the added expense and inconvenience of having to commute. All told, I think the proposal to the Board of a 3 percent (i.e., cost of living) raise is reasonable and prudent.

Mostly, though, it's important to recognize that we can't have it both ways – we can't have world class facilities and services and at the same time cut back the way Hawai'i and California have done. We can't continue to pay those we consider "public servants" as if they were indentured servants and not lose them to the private sector – that goes for teachers, IVGID staff, police, and fire as well. After one of my columns on the future of IV/CB, one resident called and in all sincerity made the argument that we should not have anything but the most basic services, no businesses, and be a purely residential community like, for example, Sea Ranch. OK, I suppose that's one way to go, but I predict that if we go that way there will be no "here" here in twenty years or so, and then what would the bears do for food?

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