Longevity pay: County commissioners shouldn’t get it

The pay for elected positions is public information. Candidates who think the job doesn’t pay enough are under no obligation to seek the office. And if they win election and want a pay raise, they should have the courage to notify the public, convince voters the extra money is deserved, and vote on it.

The automatic pay raises collected by Congress have long been offensive, and not just because they violate the 27th Amendment. They insulate representatives and senators from accountability. Back in 2000, members of Congress were paid $145,100 per year. Today, they are paid $174,000 per year despite approval ratings in the teens. Does anyone really think they deserved a decade’s worth of pay raises, or that they might have resigned from office had they not received so-called "cost-of-living" adjustments? Of course not.

Members of the Clark County Commission have something in common with Congress: automatic raises. The Review-Journal’s Kristi Jourdan reported Monday that some commissioners are collecting "longevity" pay, compensation that provides them with a generous bonus for winning re-election. Their base salary is $72,488, but after four years – one full term in office – commissioners collect a 2 percent bonus for each additional year in office.

Four commissioners currently get longevity pay: Chris Giunchigliani ($5,800 per year), Susan Brager ($5,800), Lawrence Weekly ($4,300) and Tom Collins ($8,700). Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Larry Brown will get the pay raise if they’re re-elected this year.

However, unlike members of Congress, who can vote to refuse an annual pay boost, commissioners are powerless to stop the raises. Although commissioners can control their base salaries – they imposed a 2 percent pay cut on themselves last year – longevity pay falls under state law. And what makes the bonuses even more problematic is the fact that commissioners and county management are trying to phase out longevity pay for the county’s workforce. New employees in some departments aren’t eligible for the perk.

In fact, automatic pay raises in any line of work, public or private, make no sense. The money to pay for them might not be there. The performance to justify the salary boost might be lacking. And heaven help any business or government on the hook for automatic payroll growth during a time when costs must be cut to remain viable.

Commissioners are doing the right thing in phasing out longevity pay for Clark County’s employees. Now they must follow through on themselves. When the 2013 Legislature convenes, the Nevada Association of Counties should lobby lawmakers to eliminate automatic longevity raises, give commissioners complete control of their pay and compel them to vote for any increase in their salaries and benefits.

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