Furlough day decision sends wrong message

12 years ago

To the editor:

At the April 9th Caribou City Council meeting, the council voted 4-3 in favor of implementing five furlough days for city employees. To take away from anyone is difficult, and it had to be so for the four councilors who voted in favor of the five furlough days for city employees. A few days later, a workshop was held at the employees’ request, and the council found out just how unhappy they were about this decision. Several people were there from the general public, but were not allowed to speak, so they asked for and were granted another workshop at a future date. During that workshop, not one person from the general public spoke out against the furlough days. In fact, when Citizens for Responsible City Management had the furlough day question on its website, 82 percent of those who responded were in favor of furlough days for city employees.

During the May 14th council meeting, however, when there was a threat of a grievance being filed by city employees, a motion was made and a vote was taken to rescind the furlough days. Two of the four councilors who voted in favor of the furlough days in the beginning, voted to rescind them this time, and they were.

Whether or not the furlough days would have made much of an impact on our tax bill really isn’t the issue here. In fact, for me, it’s not the issue at all. I saw them as a necessary evil, and I personally hated the fact that they might have to be implemented. It’s the idea that the employees threatened to file a grievance, and that one councilor felt that rather than spend the money going to arbitration, the council should just go ahead and rescind them altogether.

First of all, the council really did not know for sure if this would even be brought to arbitration, did they? How did they know that the cost would supersede the savings? And how did they know which way the decision would go? If this grievance were to go to arbitration, the council should have let it. At least they would have had a decision on which to base future decisions concerning furlough days and perhaps other issues as well. Remember, the State implemented furlough days successfully.

Instead, they caved in to the threat, and I think this action weakened the council. We need a strong, decisive council; one that can make the decisions, no matter how difficult, and stick to them. This council, with a couple of exceptions, seems to have forgotten the pecking order: the taxpayers, to the council, to the city manager to the employees … not the other way around. We need a council who will work for the betterment of Caribou and all of its citizens, whether private or public employees, retired, unemployed or students. Frankly, the only sacrifices I have ever seen being made on the city level are coming from the private sector.

What I would say to the city’s employees is don’t get mad at the councilors who voted for the furlough days, or at me for the letters I write or for the group of citizens who try to save the taxpayers’ dollars, but instead, take a proactive role in not only trying to save money, but trying to increase the revenues as well. For instance, I have asked a couple of councilors over the years why the city has never charged a fire department service charge. I know I have mentioned this in at least one letter and I think it’s been brought up before when our group has passed along ideas for ways to save money. This charge does not come out of the taxpayer’s pocket. I don’t know why this has never been done in the past, but kudos to the new chief for doing it now.

And did you hear about a farmer who owns land in Caribou on one side of the road, and land in Limestone on the other side of the road? He wanted to build a building and the value of that building was going to be $650,000! Think about that and digest it for a moment. That’s the equivalent of about $15,000 a year, every year, in taxes. Caribou was going to charge him $3,200 for the building permit. Limestone’s charge was $10. Yes, ten dollars. Where do you think he built that building? Now, who is receiving the benefit of that tax money each year? Not Caribou.

The city should have welcomed that farmer with open arms and offered to not only waive the charge of the building permit, but perhaps give him a little incentive to build here. The cost of abating that permit would have been recouped four times over just the first year. Now that revenue is lost forever, and buildings like that don’t come along every day.

You, as city employees, can put pressure on administration to make changes within that can make a big difference, not only in the revenues brought in, but in the overall perception of Caribou, as well. It doesn’t take many of those changes to make furlough days a non-issue.

Another issue at the last council meeting that caught my attention was a question asked by Councilor Aiken about an account that had about $2.4 million in it that apparently was not included on the monthly financial reports. Admittedly, when it comes to city financial reports, I don’t have a clue, and I usually zone out. I applaud Councilor Aiken for taking the time to go over the reports and digest the information given to him so informed decisions can be made and questions can be asked on behalf of the taxpayers. I don’t believe they all do this.

Joan Theriault