Commission wise to get ahead of issue

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lawrence County Commissioner Tanner Heaberlin was correct to get ahead of the issue of double-dipping at last week’s Lawrence County Commission meeting.

The county is considering an employee buyout plan that is designed to reduce the county’s general fund payroll by eliminating positions.

But the concern of Heaberlin, and commissioners Jason Stephens and Doug Malone, is that employees will opt for the buyout only to reapply for their jobs and double-dip, something that should not happen.

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“I’ve heard some officeholders are planning not to adhere to this and I want an opinion on whether stipulations are binding,” Heaberlin said.

In other words, the commission wants to know if there is a course of action it can take to prohibit officeholders from allowing employees to get their jobs back after taking the early retirement incentive.

That answer is unclear, but what is clear is that Heaberlin has now made it difficult for any employee to attempt that tactic and for any officeholder to go along with it.

The public should appreciate the fact the commission is taking aggressive measures to get its house in order. Whether it should have come sooner is another matter, but across the board cuts have been ordered and the commissioners are holding the officeholders’ feet to the fire, as they should.

“We want to put in a program that benefits employees, but we don’t want to be taken advantage of,” Stephens said.

At last week’s meeting, the commissioners fired a shot across the bow making it clear it would not appreciate maneuvers that would undermine their objective to straighten out the county’s finances.

Neither would taxpayers and, perhaps more poignantly, voters.

There is an argument to make that in some instances double-dipping can actually benefit the public, but this is not one of those instances.

This measure is to trim the numbers. That cannot happen with double-dipping and the commission was wise to make that clear in a public fashion.