The Lima News
Twenty years ago, The Lima News became one of the first newspapers in Ohio to publish the names and salaries of the top paid public employees in its region. We took heat back then, primarily from those on the list who said their wages were no one’s business. Of course, they were wrong. Their salaries are paid by taxpayers, who have every right to know how their tax money is being spent.
Today, the newspaper seldom receives a complaint as the public payroll project has become one of the most popular projects it publishes each year.
Certainly, there’s a natural curiosity that drives some of that interest. However, we’ve also watched the public develop a growing interest in government spending. Since a large portion of tax dollars are used to pay public salaries, it is only reasonable for the newspaper to inform its readers about those at the top of the salary chart. This is of extra interest during today’s economic times when local governments have huge demands for limited funds.
Over the years the salary review has raised many interesting issues.
Last year, we (as well as the residents of Cridersville) were surprised to find that village Police Chief John Drake was paid more than $78,000, just $10,000 less than Lima chief Kevin Martin. It turned out Drake was working an exorbitant amount of overtime. By year’s end, Cridersville village council reexamined the police chief”s duties, making the job a salaried position paying $58,500, and Drake was not expected to work as much overtime.
In 2005, the public was stunned when it learned Allen County Sheriff Dan Beck gave a 23-percent raise to a 34-year employee, bringing his salary to $91,000. The driving force behind the $16,987 raise, according to Beck, was that he wanted to make sure one of his top men was taken care of in retirement.
People were astonished to learn in 2000 the high cost of salaries needed to pay medical workers in Lima’s three prisons. Four were paid more than $200,000, with the highest being $222,794.
Publishing these salaries doesn’t mean we believe a certain group of people is making too much money, or that there is anything improper about their wages. In reality, some of the people listed in today’s salary review could make more money in the private sector. Our stories have pointed this out.
The study also has shown how costly it can be for government to provide services.
In 2006, the effect of the ice storm on Lima and Allen County overtime budgets drew attention. A street supervisor earned more than $20,000 in overtime after working 18-hour days, seven days a week, for several weeks. He noted his personal life became a casualty to the ice storm. In 1993, we heard a similar story about overtime. A billing supervisor in the Utilities Department earned more overtime than anyone in Lima city government — $7,411 — and she said she would gladly give back every cent to recapture the evenings she lost to work.
In 2003, it was reported several Allen County officials gave back some of their wages because of tight budgets in their departments. Commissioner Steve Diepenbrock donated $1,776, most of which was used to pay for a consultant. State law dictated that Clerk of Courts Ann Geiger receive a $697 raise, but she passed it on to her employees. Beck donated $577 because some staff members were not getting raises. Then in 2007 we learned how municipal governments were saving money by rehiring employees who retired at a lower pay scale.
The salary review has pointed out pay differences between men and women.
In 1997, out of the top 50 salaries among all public school districts in Allen County, only 10 were earned by women. Ten years later, the study showed women made progress with 16 among the top 50, including nine in the top 25 and one ranked No. 2.
In 2001, Allen County Commissioner Alberta Lee was making less money than the other two commissioners were, even though she held the job much longer. That was because her salary was based on the 1998 pay scale when she was last elected. The other two were elected to office when the scale was increased.
There have been humerous moments.
One of the most unusual complaints we received the last 20 years came from a woman who was upset her husband thought she was being paid considerably less until he read the newspaper that morning.
“So much for my secret slush fund,” she told us.