Another approach: Why not a hiring freeze?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Last week the Concerned Citizens Electrical Committee recommended to members of the City Council that a temporary hiring freeze be implemented throughout our city.

This is a cost-saving recommendation made as an alternative to the position of council that an increase in property taxes would be the only alternative to profits from Franklin’s Electrical Department, which are currently being sent to and spent in the General Fund, being used instead to provide lower electrical rates for its customers.

Our committee recently surveyed electric rates from the seven Virginia communities (VEMA), including Franklin, that collectively negotiate with Dominion Power for their purchased power rates. Results indicate that the electrical rate paid by customers of Franklin’s Electrical Department exceeds the rate paid by customers from each VEMA location (Blackstone, Culpepper, Elkton, Harrisonburg, Manassas and Wakefield).

Each community within VEMA pays Dominion Power the same rate for their electricity. The obvious conclusion is that Franklin’s citizens are paying too much for their electricity when compared to the other locations surveyed.

Our recommendation of an immediate, cost-saving hiring freeze is not without hardship. Most of us on our committee have experienced at least one in our employment careers, and the experience requires creativity and working more efficiently.

When an employee retires or leaves, that individual is not replaced until the freeze is lifted.

Department managers are told to do more with less and are expected to find a way to get the job done.

Organizations and cities of all shapes and sizes have been adopting similar cost-saving approaches over the last 10 years.

It begins with a realization that &uot;business as usual&uot; must change. Why should Franklin be an exception?

Public-safety employees can be exempted from such a temporary hiring freeze. This approach would address the immediate public safety concerns expressed by one council member over our recommendation.

By not replacing Electrical Department Director David Howe, the city council, our city manager and our mayor would be saving citizens a significant salary/benefit package as well as sending a positive signal to the community that they are serious about trying to reduce spending and lower electric rates versus raising property taxes.

The city council has asked our committee to examine areas where spending could be reduced. This is tedious work.

We recently examined the $30,000 consultant proposal for a new city job classification and compensation plan. There are two basic plans for consideration: Plan A with total implementation costs of $409,000 or Plan B at $340,000. Each of these two plans can be modified at a lower cost, Plan A for $343,000 or Plan B for $277,000.

This appears to be a heavy price tag for our city at this time. It is such a heavy price tag in part because larger cities with higher pay scales than Franklin _- such as Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Richmond, Hampton and Newport News – dominate the salary surveys (copies are available for the public at the Human Resource Department).

Effective council members, mayors and city managers must continually ask tough questions to thoroughly understand the issues before them. Council decisions are often difficult and far-reaching.

These individuals carry great responsibility. Theirs is not an easy job, particularly when compounded by costly acts of nature which have befallen our community of late.

However, elected officials can never lose sight of the confidence placed in them by citizens every two to four years. They, along with our city manager, are expected by citizens to make responsible, common-sense decisions such as those our Task Force recommendations call for: implementation of a well-thought-out hiring freeze and delaying the costly job classification and compensation plan.

Chuck Lilley of Franklin is a retired Union Camp sales manager. His e-mail address is