Tea Party Patriots recommend reduction in executive salaries

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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A salary reduction for city employees making more than $100,000 a year could save the city $250,000 next year. That’s according to Jim Macauley, a financial consultant from Newcastle who is analyzing the city’s budget for the Lincoln Tea Party Patriots. The grassroots-based group is asking the city to reduce salaries of all city employees to $100,000 or less. At least eight city employees are making more than $100,000 a year, according to the Feb. 25 News Messenger A12 article, “What are Lincon’s city employees earning?” Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt is making $135,260 a year. When asked by The News Messenger about the Tea Party’s request for a salary reduction, Whitt said, “that’s something the city would have to decide on as a whole.” “Everyone is suffering in the community through the economic doldrums and we’re all struggling,” Whitt said. “They’re asking some good questions and we’ll try to answer them. That’s what it’s about, making sure the government is responsive to the needs of the community.” The News Messenger left phone and e-mail messages with City Manager Jim Estep and Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Anna Jatczak, asking them about the Tea Party’s salary-reduction recommendation. Jatczak did not respond as of press time Wednesday. Estep responded by e-mail Wednesday, saying he wants a “better understanding of their rationale for determining the $100,000 salary limit” before commenting. “In general, I’m concerned that by ignoring market forces which determine salaries the city could possibly lose some very talented and experienced management staff,” Estep wrote. “Ultimately, however, this would be a policy decision that the City Council would have to make.” While Jatczak did not respond to the salary-reduction question, she e-mailed Tuesday an answer to News Messenger questions regarding the Tea Party’s recent activities. “I think that the Tea Party is asking some very thoughtful questions, as well as a number of our community members who have voiced their priorities via the community survey,” Jatczak wrote. “As I am sure you know, this city is committed to an open dialogue with all of its residents. We, like all other municipal jurisdictions are struggling through this economic downturn, not unlike many of our residents.” Mayor Tom Cosgrove had no comment regarding the salary-reduction proposition because the Tea Party “haven’t asked that question of me.” When asked about the Tea Party’s request for executive-salary reductions, City Councilman Spencer Short said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion” and pointed out that “we’re below in salaries (compared to) competing jurisdictions.” As Lincoln’s city manager, Estep makes $205,162 a year. The News Messenger found out that Auburn’s city manager makes $134,265 per year. Two weeks ago, the Lincoln Tea Party Patriots delivered a set of 15 questions regarding this year’s city budget to City Council. Some questions regarded salaries, such as asking how many employees make more than $100,000 a year and what their benefits are. “Given the economic environment everyone is in, there needs to be a justification for salaries over $100,000 because of the economic downturn,” said Claire Magid, coordinator for the Lincoln Tea Party Patriots. “This affects people directly, in the pocketbook.” During the last City Council meeting, Tea Party members asked that answers to the 15 questions be provided at the next City Council meeting, which is at 6 p.m. this Tuesday. At last week’s meeting, Cosgrove said that the city “will try to have responses to the questions.” Macauley also requested the contracts for seven city of Lincoln employees a week ago Thursday. On Friday, he said he received the contracts for City Manager Estep, Chief Financial Officer/Assistant City Manager Jatczak, Fire Chief Whitt, Director of Library Services Darla Wegener and Human Resources Manager Debbie Lindh. “The group’s position going into this is that the salaries need to be reduced,” Macauley said. “We want them (City Council) to reduce general-fund expenses to $11.5 million and now they have to figure out whether or not they can do that. “ Macauley also “challenged” City Council to establish “an ambitious spending goal for the fiscal 2011 general fund budget” of $11.5 million, which he said is a $1.9 million reduction of this year’s budget. “We believe the $11.5 million makes sense because they told us revenue levels are declining and a way they are looking at resolving the issue is raising taxes, which is unacceptable,” Macauley said. Short said the figure of $11.5 million is “an interesting proposition but it’s not realistic because the cost of running police and fire equal that amount.” What is the tea party? Magid said the Tea Party’s mission “is to educate people about government bills in Congress that affect them directly” and “about the budget and getting people involved in the community.” The Lincoln Tea Party Patriots will meet at 7 tonight at the Orchard Creek Ballroom, which will be a new location for the meeting. The Tea Party previously met at Lincoln Travel and Cruise but Magid said the group is growing. “At the last meeting, we had 53 people, and 23 were new,” Magid said. “There are a lot of frustrated people that would like to have a voice and the ability to join forces with like-minded people.” Magid said that Macauley is analyzing the city’s budget and salaries because of his finances background. “The fact is that he has the background as a chief financial officer in his career and is currently a financial management consultant and offered to do it,” Magid said. Macauley said he has “spent 20 years looking at budgets and the first five years of my career was spent becoming an accountant.” Macauley said he has been a financial consultant with his business, JRJ Macauley, since February 1989 and also owns a second business, Roulette Capital. Magid said the Tea Party is in “the beginning of starting a dialogue” with the city, which she said is “the first step in any negotiation.” “I believe this is a first for the city government to have the populous come forward with questions,” Magid said. She said some of the city’s expenditures “seem unreasonable” with “people hurting financially,” except for the city government. “Someone has to say no,” Magid said.