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June 22, 2013

Learning to compromise

RICHMOND — Unless their apparent agreement breaks down before Tuesday, we can conclude that Richmond’s five city commissioners are learning to compromise.

That’s a welcome relief after some earlier meetings that were peppered with snide remarks and accusations of dishonesty. While such antics may score points with some factions, they’re unhelpful in getting things done.

The draft budget, to which no one objected at this past Tuesday’s work session, contains funding for one item on the wish list of commissioners Laura King and Jim Newby.

The two first-term commissioners had been pushing for restoration of a year-end longevity bonus, the addition of three firefighters and reopening of Fire Station No. 5 off Duncannon Lane in the industrial park.

All three proposals had been openly opposed as too costly or unneeded by Mayor Jim Barnes and Commissioner Donna Baird, who consistently sides with the mayor.

None of the three proposals were contained in the first budget draft by City Manager Jimmy Howard. The budget was reviewed with little discussion at a June 4 work session that King did not attend.

Signs that a bargain was in the works were evident when first reading of the budget ordinance was taken off the agenda of the June 11 regular session, and another budget work session was scheduled for June 18.

At that meeting, there again was little discussion, but a compromise appears to have been reached among the commissioners. Three additional firefighters would be hired, but longevity pay would have to wait and Fire Station 5 would stay closed.

In addition to learning the necessity of compromise, city commissioners also seem to be learning that easy choices are elusive. They agreed to sacrifice one item Howard had proposed that would have been popular with both the police and fire departments.

The uniform allowance for firefighters and police officers that the first budget draft would have restored won’t happen this year.

The allowance, as well as longevity pay and annual across-the-board raises were ended after the city was gripped by a financial crisis in 2009.

Let’s hope that police officers won’t blame the new firefighters for losing restoration of their uniform allowance.

All city employees, however, can be grateful that they will be getting a 2-percent raise for the second consecutive year.

Another sacrifice was the cutting of $100,000 in capital outlay that had been budgeted this year for the parks department.

Mayor Barnes still has reservations about annual raises for employees, however. At the July 11 meeting, he expressed doubt that 2-percent raises can be sustained when payroll tax revenue, the city’s main source of income, has been growing only by about 1.5 percent annually.

If that trend continues, the city may be faced with some new hard choices in the future.

Although this recent compromise may be commendable, the way it was reached is not.

There was no public discussion of the tradeoffs needed to reach the agreement.

We could all have benefited from knowing the rationale that both sides followed to achieve consensus. Those who represent us owe us that.

Let’s not be too harsh in our judgment, however. Like the opposing factions of the commission, perhaps we should be glad they’ve made this much progress.

Now that they’ve learned to compromise on the budget, maybe they’ll gain the nerve to let us know how they settled their differences.

 

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