It’s true that revenue growth is allowing the Town of Clayton to create 22 new government jobs this year without a tax increase. But what about next year and the years after that? Will town revenue sustain those jobs without tax increases or without layoffs?
Here’s what we know about those 22 new jobs: Come next July, those employees will be in line for pay raises, perhaps 2 or 3 percent across the board, no matter if inflation is less than that. And if current trends continue, the employees’ health insurance, paid for entirely by taxpayers, will cost more too. (Let’s hope the town’s decision to join the state health insurance plan will keep that increase below what Clayton had been experiencing on its own in recent years.)
Of course, salaries and insurance costs have a way of climbing annually, so the scenario that plays out in Clayton’s 2017-18 budget will return every year after that.
Keep in mind too that Clayton taxpayers will be paying those 22 employees long after they retire from town government. They’ll receive free health insurance for life and a guaranteed pension payment that won’t change even if the town’s financial fortunes do. The people paying for that health care and those pensions should be that fortunate, but most aren’t. Instead, most share in the cost of their health insurance, if their employer provides health insurance at all, and if they have a pension, it’s usually a 401(k), whose value rises and falls with the stock market; it doesn’t guarantee a certain payment for life.
And, thanks to advances in medicine, life is a lot longer now than it used to be. A Clayton employee who starts work at 20 and retires 30 years later at age 50 could well spend as much time in retirement as on the job. Now we don’t begrudge anyone a long and healthy life, we’re just noting that 30 years in retirement will come at no small cost to Clayton taxpayers. And unlike payroll, which a town can reduce through layoffs in hard financial times, obligations to retirees can not be reduced or suspended; in many cases, the courts have said that.
In proposing the new jobs, now departed town manager Steve Biggs said he was spending to continue improving on quality of life for Clayton residents. And in the former town manager’s defense, the rest of Clayton apparently agreed with him. A public hearing on the budget drew no opposition, and the council was united in approving the new spending.
No doubt, it helped Mr. Biggs’ cause that he could pay for the new hires without a tax increase. But what’s “free” today might not be tomorrow, a fact that we hope Clayton leaders will keep in mind the next time a town manager proposes to grow the town’s workforce.