Editorial Note

(Editor’s note: A recent editorial by the Detroit Free Press blasted Wayne County Commissioners for not cutting their pay at a time when the region – and government revenues – has been crippled by an awful economy. The letter below is the response from Commissioner Gary Woronchak, D-Dearborn.)
The Free Press story on this issue was a bit more balanced and accurate than the editorial. They raise some valid points, and don’t give due consideration to others.
All Wayne County elected officials will take a 10 percent pay cut at the conclusion of the current term. Wayne County elected official salaries are tied into the governor’s. By ordinance, County Executive Bob Ficano’s pay is 97 percent of the governor’s, and other officials’ (clerk, treasurer, etc.) are a percentage of Ficano’s. Commissioners’ base pay is 40 percent of Ficano’s.
When the State Officers’ Compensation Commission recommended (and the Legislature approved) a 10 percent pay cut for the governor and other state officials, it meant Wayne County officials would take a 10 percent cut as well. These cuts take place at the beginning of the next term, Jan. 1, 2011.
The County Charter (and, I believe, the state Constitution) does not allow pay adjustments at any time but the beginning of a term. This is in place so elected officials can’t vote themselves raises right after getting elected. But it also doesn’t allow pay reductions.
OK, what does this mean for the Wayne County Commission? Like state officials, we will take a 10 percent reduction in base pay at the start of the next term. That amounts to about $7,000. I think that represents some sacrifice. The Free Press doesn’t see it that way so much. When the governor proposed the 10 percent cut, the compensation commission formally recommended it, and the Legislature approved it — to take effect at the start of the next term — the Free Press and others applauded the fine example they set. With the Wayne County Commission about to vote to accept the same pay cut, the Free Press calls it piggish.
 The Free Press lauds the Oakland and Macomb bounty boards of commissioners for the cuts they are taking. They can’t take cuts until the start of their next terms either, and their cuts will total 5 percent. Oakland commissioners are pledging to return 2.5 percent of their pay to the county budget this and next year anyway. OK, great. But why is our looming 10 percent cut piggish and Oakland and Macomb’s 5 percent lauded?
The Free Press points out that Wayne commissioners get paid a lot more than counterparts in Oakland and Macomb. That’s true, that’s been the case for many years. Wayne County is a bigger county, we have a bigger budget (Wayne County’s is $2.1 billion, Oakland’s is $762 million), and we have fewer commissioners who represent more people than in other counties. Our 15 commissioners each represent about 130,000 constituents. Oakland’s 25 commissioners each represent about 48,000 and Macomb’s 26 commissioners each represent about 32,000.
Now, having said all that, Wayne County Commissioners are still discussing how additional cuts in our compensation might be made in this upcoming budget. Of course I agree that elected officials must share the pain in these terrible economic times. I believe the 10 percent is part of that. Whether commissioners can reach consensus on more and sooner reductions remains to be seen, but discussions are continuing. I assume the Free Press was unaware of this, because it would be a large omission in their story and editorial otherwise.
There is a general notion that elected officials vote themselves raises every year. I understand the skepticism of the general public, being a member of that public myself. But that’s not the case with Wayne County (or state) officials. The last increase in base pay for Wayne County elected officials was 3 percent in January 2002. That’ll be eight years without any increases (and I’m not suggesting any were warranted, just pointing it out), which means an inflationary net loss in buying power of about 25 percent since 2002, before a 10 percent reduction Jan. 1, 2011. I just want to make sure no one thinks commissioners have been whipping up raises for themselves along the way.
Gary Woronchak
Wayne County Commissioner
13th District