Double Dipping Raises Questions

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Let’s see if we have this straight: Payson Water Czar Buzz Walker and Acting Planning Department Director Ray Erlandsen will retire, take a buyout payment of $40,000 or $50,000, collect their pensions — and then report right back to work as private contractors the next day.

And this will save money. Wow. Really?

This certainly says something about the inadequate control of employee benefits in the past — not only in Payson, but in most public agencies.

Consider this stunning little fact: benefit and retirement promises total about 60 percent of the total salary for workers with long service to the town of Payson. By contrast, benefit costs for workers hired today run to more like 30 percent — comparable to salaried positions at many private businesses.

Reportedly, the town employees accepting the buyout package and new, outside contracts have agreed to take the smaller, current benefit package rather than finishing out their service and retiring at the higher benefits rate.

On that basis, the town may well save money in the long run — despite the disconcerting arrangement by which key town workers can collect town pensions and paychecks at the same time.

However, this approach raises some other troubling questions that we hope the town has thought all the way through.

For instance, these new contract workers can enter into other contracts as they see fit, which they need not even disclose.

So what if a contract head of community development also hires on as a consultant to a developer? What if the contract head of the town’s water department has an outside contract with another water district — or perhaps Brooke Utilities?

We do not mean to suggest that either Mr. Walker or Mr. Erlandsen have or would enter into any conflict of interest. Indeed, they have each devoted their careers to Payson and served with great integrity and devotion. This town owes each of them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

But that does not diminish our concerns about this new template for running vital town departments. Even if it’s a one-time deal that helps solve an intractable problem, vexing questions remain.

If this is the model — then it’s crucial the town council gets all the details straight.

No support for GCC property tax increase

It does not appear Gila Community College board members have any clearer picture of its revenue and expenses than it did months ago and especially as compared to last year’s budget.

Yet they are looking at hiring lawyers to deal with legal issues surrounding a potential request to voters to raise its secondary tax levy.

The GCC board, with Eastern Arizona College sitting in the middle because they are the ones who supply financial information, need to know exactly what its financial situation is before asking voters for more money.

Somehow they don’t even know if they should be counting tuition as revenue. Let’s see how this works. Students pay the college to attend class, that is cold, hard cash that goes to Eastern, yet they don’t seem to know if it is revenue for the GCC. Huh? EAC’s financial expert says tuition is not a revenue source, it just reduces GCC bills. Huh?

It seems that since EAC actually collects money, it may not go to GCC. Huh?

Last year the college, thanks to EAC, published a budget that made no sense. There were bad numbers, missing numbers and just plain bad information, yet they published their budget as they are required by law and totally misled GCC board members and the public.

Last year, GCC board members discovered the college had a $2 million shortfall shortly after passing a budget that listed $2 million in reserves. That budget also did not list tuition. EAC and GCC need to get their financial act together before they consider asking voters to increase their property taxes by even 1 cent. We have no faith in any financial numbers being put out by the colleges.

Voters are tired of government agencies repeatedly coming back to them for more money, especially in EAC and GCC’s case when they can’t even publish a budget that has correct numbers in it.

There is no chance that a tax increase request put forth by GCC or EAC would get any type of community support when so many questions about the finances of the school are up in the air.

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