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EDC raises an ill-advised decision

The decision to give out 2 percent pay raises to employees of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission may prove to be expensive in the long run.

Dougherty County Commissioner Gloria Gaines suggested that "maybe we need to take a closer look at the budgets of organizations that are subject to our funding" at Monday's County Commission meeting, where word of the EDC raises was about as popular as an appearance by Rush Limbaugh at the National Democratic Convention would be.

That county commissioners would take umbrage at the EDC pay raises should be a surprise to no one. The county is one of three agencies -- along with the Albany City Commission and the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce -- that each chip in a quarter-million dollars a year to fund the EDC. We'd be surprised if the Albany City Commission, which meets today, doesn't have a similar reaction.

With Dougherty County employees having missed out on raises for three straight years, it's difficult for commissioners to explain to their own employees why they can't have raises while an agency the county helps fund can. EDC minutes indicate that the raises were given to help offset higher health insurance costs, but the EDC is far from unique in that area. Employees all across Southwest Georgia -- both public employees and employees of private businesses -- have had to deal with escalating health care costs and stagnant incomes.

Given the recessive economic climate that still pervades in our community and area, the decision to award the raises just wasn't prudent.

"I think anyone who receives county funds ... needs to run their business like we've tried to run ours," County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard said.

County commissioners no doubt are bracing to hear grumbling from employees over the perceived inequity and are unlikely to be disappointed in that regard.

While the year-to-year EDC payroll difference with the raises factored in might only be a net $900 extra, we agree with Gaines, Sinyard and Commissioner Jack Stone that the move was ill advised.

The bottom line is that a public agency like the EDC that gets two-thirds of its funding from local governments that are cash-strapped and asking for more from already burdened taxpayers -- the city passed a 1.33-mill property tax increase while the county passed a 2-mill increase for unincorporated areas -- shouldn't have placed itself in this position for criticism.

When EDC officials come to the city and county governments for funding next fiscal year, they shouldn't be surprised to find that commissioners -- who ultimately control how big the checks are that the economic development agency receives -- can have long memories.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board