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Orange County raises too high, unwarranted

September 20, 2018

If there’s any justification for the whopping 15 percent pay increase that Orange County commissioners voted themselves, taxpayers haven’t seen it yet. Until the commissioners provide evidence, it looks like they did this basically because they could — and apparently didn’t care that much about any blowback from the voters.

It doesn’t matter that commissioner salaries hadn’t been increased in more a decade, or that these raises were originally approved a year ago and then put on hold. The current commissioner’s salary of $63,118 is fair for Orange County, and the county’s economy hasn’t grown much over that span. Many taxpayers are also making about what they did 10 years ago, and they can’t vote themselves a raise.

Large pay increases like this would be unjustified in a thriving county, and they seem especially inappropriate in Orange County. The commissioners should know that many residents there make half or less of the $72,800 they voted themselves.

Even the 5 percent raises that commissioners approved for other county officials were generous. Employees in the private sector rarely see a jump like that, even if they didn’t receive raises in previous years.

At least County Judge Dean Crooks didn’t betray the principles that got him elected in March. He urged the commissioners to accept smaller raises and lead “from the front.” Instead they seemed motivated by a different motto: Take the money and run.

The larger issue is this: What have Orange County commissioners done to justify such a hefty increase? Have they brought dazzling changes to the county and helped create the good-paying jobs the county desperately needs?

Sadly, they have not. The county has struggled for years with a flat economy and a population that is growing little, or declining. The county government had operated in a deficit until the election of former Judge Stephen Brint Carlton in 2014. His changes — and these very large salary increases — were controversial and played a part in his defeat in the Republican primary last March, along with the defeat of incumbent commissioners Barry Burton and Jody Crump.

Turnover like that is rare in area politics. But Carlton and that commissioners court did display fiscal discipline and turn a deficit into a small surplus until Harvey came along last year.

The purpose of governmental service is not to become wealthy. That’s what the private sector is for. The county still could attract qualified candidates for commissioner at the current salary of $63,118, and for other county offices at lesser salaries. These raises mock the results of the last election and ignore the economic condition of Orange County. Any commissioner who accepts them should expect to face consequences in the next election.

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