Launch Slideshow

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Picking up the Pieces

Picking up the Pieces

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You couldn’t believe we had the gall to ask: Do you plan to hire this year?

City and county finances remain a persistent downer amid reports of a strengthening national economy and back-from-the-brink state budgets. After adding the household survey (what workers report) to the U.S. Labor Department’s establishment survey (what employers report), The Wall Street Journal concluded that the national unemployment rate would be 1% lower were it not for cuts in government spending.

For some cash-strapped communities, furloughs are no longer enough to close the gap between available revenue and community need. For several years, pay increases (when they’ve come) have been wiped out by higher required contributions to insurance and pension plans. Some communities are taking drastic measures, like combining police and fire into a single department.

When stuff like that starts happening, you know what’s coming for less-visible and –valued public works: another year of more work for less pay. Except for a lucky few, that’s what’s on tap for 2013.

Small cities expect you to perform in multiple areas without additional compensation. When the public works director retired, those duties fell on me. Then the position was eliminated. – Small-town (pop. 5001-10,000) water/sewer department head in the Southeast who makes $30,001 - $35,000.

I’m still at my 2006 salary level. Retirement’s 10 years away and I don’t expect an increase any time soon because adjustments are now based on merit (which less than 1% of us will see). – Wisconsin state stormwater engineer making $70,001 - $75,000.

One of my employees picked up 75% of the work of someone who left last year, and I can’t give her a raise. – Southeastern state administrator making $60,001 - $65,000.

We have a bumper crop of work, but little is being done to increase employment. The reality is that in two years or so, work levels will fall; no one wants to bring on new people to lay them off in a couple of years. – EPA Region 10 county traffic engineer making $95,001 - $100,000.

I hold two master’s degrees and make about $42,000. I’d go to the feds in a heartbeat. – State environmental engineer in the Southeast. (Editor’s comment: After two years of pay freezes, half of the nation’s 2.1 million federal employees face potential furloughs because of sequestration budget cuts.)

We’ve given back 10 hours/month due to furloughs. – Mid-size (pop. 100,001-250,000) California city solid waste manager making $75,001 - $80,000.

Anticipate unpaid furlough resulting in loss of up to 20% pay this year. – Texas special district environmental engineer making $90,001 - $95,000.

Four years after the Great Recession officially ended, both public- and private-sector employees are burned out and fed up. A Florida survey respondent summed up the average worker’s situation very well: Continual squeeze on and elimination of benefits over the years, like Chinese water torture. Constant pressure of possible layoffs, proliferation of minor impediments to getting the job done, budget cuts, mixed and conflicting signals, Dilbert-style management practices, slow erosion of programs by attrition, and distrust and suspicion at all levels.