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Will Merger Save Millions?

The ad: A mass mailing by the pro-charter group touts savings for the proposed city-county merger. “Save money by eliminating costly duplicated management and departments,” it says. “Millions can be saved just by ending duplicated management of services provided by both the city and county.”

The background: The city and county have departments that perform the same functions. But savings are one of the most hotly contested topics in the charter debate because costs for a government that does not yet exist are hard to estimate.

Opponents’ reaction: In a letter to the state Public Disclosure Commission, Kathy Reid of We the Taxpayers calls the ad false and reckless. “The salaries of all management personnel in the city and county do not amount to even $1 million per year and … the charter does not propose to combine or eliminate many of the present service departments.” By not stating a period of time for the savings to accrue, the ad is deceptive, she said.

Campaign response: Mike Senske, who helped draft the charter, said the estimate is based on a quick study of people who do the same job for each government - the police chief and sheriff, city manager and county administrator, parks directors and so forth. He and two other freeholders estimated there were at least 57 such positions; using an average of $50,000 in wages and benefits, they came up with an estimated savings of $2.5 million, which they feel is conservative. While the charter doesn’t dictate such mergers, “it would be foolish” to assume the new government would maintain duplicate departments, he said.

Analysis: The number of managers is open to wide interpretation. For example, some could argue police sergeants are managers, others would draw the line at the chief. If all the positions that Senske mentions were eliminated, the new government could find the savings claimed. But the charter itself would make such a large layoff difficult in the short term, because it guarantees no one below the level of an appointed department head can be laid off for two years. Some savings would have to be accomplished by a hiring freeze, coupled with a shifting of existing staff to new jobs.

, DataTimes

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