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Watchele, Muchachos

The most paranoid place in Huntsville is not Russellville or the gen pop showers at The Walls anymore. It’s City Hall where Chuck Pinto’s Budget Demons are eating the face off $1 million in expenses while he raises revenue at $2 a pop from those cheeky Zumba ladies.

The pucker factor is reportedly so tight over there that city staff shits straight pins. But why? Why would the most frequently praised, handsomely paid, and lavishly perked workforce in Walker County break a sweat over balancing this budget?

Because, even though city council passed a 10.5 percent tax increase, the city is going to reduce staff before the end of the year—Merry FN Christmas, y’all!—and it’s likely the first to go will be the highest paid, most vested, most experienced, and most specialized. In other words, the ones least likely to be able to find new jobs in Huntsville.

Laying off employees might just be what the city should do right now. Maybe city government has just gotten too big. Maybe laying off people now could prevent a tax increase again next year—and that’s an easy argument to make since personnel is 60 to 70 percent of the city’s budget.

But best of all, lay-offs are a great way to rain down fire and brimstone on the enemies of the power elite and the best way ever to adjust employee attitudes for years to come. That might be an essential part of Pinto’s five-year plan for the city—because if you survive these lay-offs, they ain’t gonna hear a peep outta you for a good five years.

Even if that’s not a perk Pinto has sold to city council, it’s one they have gleefully inferred. Bet your ass. The “right” folks will emerge from this reorg in better shape and the “wrong” folks will limp away, all but destroyed.

I hope you guys are thinking seriously about early retirement.

The early retirement package that council passed this week is the first step in the purge, and it might sound like a cushy deal to the public, many on fixed or declining incomes. Three months’ severance in addition to retirement pay and continuation of the Cadillac of employee benefit  plans. Booyah!

Oh, but, fuck. Look at this—there are two additional tiers of eligible employees: those whose age and experience adds up to 75 years and those who are 60 years old with five years. Do you fall into one of those groups? Pay attention—they were created just for you.

Pinto is casting a wide net with council complicity, and it’s unlikely they’re playing workforce lottery, waiting to see who signs up and postponing staff contingency planning for something left to chance.

There’s a list of who’s eligible in all three tiers. That list includes the names of those they want to go and those whose jobs might be saved if they do.

But if the rumors are true, council is looking at a roadblock.

No one is going to sign up. Retirement pay goes up as long as the employee stays on. If you opt out in December, your benefits will not be as high as they would have been if you’d stayed on until you were ready to go. All the goodwill you might bask in at your city retirement party will evaporate quick once you do the annuity math. And you deserve the extra money, right? Councils and city managers come and go, but you’ve been holding down the fort a long time. That should count for something.

Hell to the no. Not unless you spent the last twenty years keeping your mouth shut. If that’s not you, don’t be a dumb ass. Take it. You’ve already been marked off. You’re going to walk out of City Hall trailing streamers or be escorted out by Huntsville police with your coffee cup and family photos stuffed in your satchel. Your choice.

What if you’re not eligible for a pretty retirement package and you get the heave ho in the Great Holiday Reorg? It’s customary to get some sort of severance package that includes medical insurance, but you might want to be looking around now to create some of that turnover city administration has said it fears.

And if you’re a contract employee—well, sucks to be you.

But buck up, survivors, because a year from now the city will once again be in high slush fund, and the only thing you’ll have to worry about is whether you pissed off Keith Olson and the more vindictive members of The Powers That Be.

56.9 cents.

That’s the target tax rate, give or take a ha’penny or two. Olson told you so himself at least three times this summer while council cobbled together its leaky budget and passed a tax rate 4 cents above the effective rate.

Fifty-six point nine cents—that’s the tax rate the City of Nacogdoches passed this fiscal year. And if the citizens of Nacogdoches—where the median income is roughly the same and the major employer is also a four-year state university—can handle a rate that is almost 15 cents more (per $100 of property value), then why the fuck can’t you?

But what Olson didn’t tell you is that the tax rate in Nacogdoches is actually staying flat or has been going down. Twelve years ago, the tax was at 64 cents and city commissioners voted to reduce it by 2 cents per year to 50 cents until the economy went bust in 2008. Last year, the Nacogdoches city commission passed a rate 3 cents below the effective rate.

I don’t know how Nacogdoches got saddled with a 64-cent tax rate twelve years ago when Huntsville residents paid almost half that, but it makes Huntsville look like a much better place to locate a business, a light industry, and a work force. Doesn’t it?

So why would this council pave the way for even higher taxes even as its favorite sister city struggles to lower its taxpayers’ burden? I don’t have to spell that out for you, do I?

Chuck Pinto’s got a nice Christmas present in the works for city council: a lean city staff full of very compliant and well-compensated workers too scared to even think of speaking truth to power.

And if the voters of Huntsville don’t act this November, they’ll get a fat lump of coal from incumbents come September 2013.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they ain’t after you.

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One response to “Watchele, Muchachos

  1. Tina Felder ⋅

    “And if you’re a contract employee—well, sucks to be you.”

    The City’s grant writer is contract. And she’s been told, “DON’T APPLY FOR ANY MORE GRANTS.” Not even ones that have no match or City contribution requirement. Essentially free money. Why? I guess she’s on the “downsize” list. She’ll probably be gone by the end of the year.

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