An Increase as “Savings” in Tiverton Contract
It so happened that, the week my letter about Tiverton officials’ relationship with the public unions appeared in the Sakonnet Times, the town council posted a “tentative agreement” with AFSCME Council 94, slated for ratification at Monday’s town council meeting. The coincidence led one commenter on the Sakonnet Times site to aver hypocrisy, on my part, for treating the teachers’ union as unique. (The magnitude of cost is apparently not a factor in judging a conservative’s “hypocrisy.”)
That commenter is not the only person who’s asked my opinion, so as I would have done anyway, I spent some time looking through the various documents related to the agreement. Of particular interest is the PDF showing $117,065 in savings over the life of the contract: Unless I’m misreading — and I couldn’t make the provided numbers translate into the stated decrease* — the town derives that dollar amount by assuming increases in salaries and other costs and counting some mitigating changes as “savings.”
Based only on this “contract negotiations summary” document, however, the estimated cost to the town of this contract represents an
increase of $114,647 (3.4%) decrease of only $5,233** compared with a scenario in which the contract total would be held steady at the ’07/’08 level over the same period. Since that year was the most expensive of its contract, the total cost surely increased.
This is why the town — like the state — is in its current predicament: It begins with what sounds like a fair-sounding pay increase (2.5%), rather than starting from the perspective of the taxpayer. What makes town officials think that the town will have more to spend on these services in a few years than it had at the tail end of an era of plenty during a housing boom?
At a time when newspapers are reporting the fastest rate of job loss since the 1970s, and when economists have begun pushing back their predictions of recovery by six-month intervals, agreements should be made on a one-year basis and strive for an overall balancing of cost increases and expenditure savings. Towns factor in the increases and decreases in the cost of utilities and healthcare, but they never apply the same calculations to labor. I’m sorry to say it, but the cost thereof is way down, based on the ready supply of new employees, and if union workers insist on a three-year term that protects their jobs for that duration, they ought to make the town a better offer. Otherwise, the town should consider, in a sense, going out to bid.
* I’ve emailed the town administrator asking for the formula that arrives at these numbers.
** My initial number resulted from a data entry error as explained here.