I’m not usually a big fan of high-dollar studies commissioned by the City Council, but one currently being considered could be an exception. A study of city employee pay and pensions, analyzing what’s being paid now and how it compares with the private sector and other public employers, is needed to ensure that we aren’t needlessly burning money Downtown.

Now before you get all cranked up about what I’m advocating, hear this: I’m not suggesting changing anything for employees already employed by the city and promised a certain level of pay and pension.

But I’m pretty sure the study will find two things: 1) the city’s private pension plan is needlessly generous and hideously expensive compared with putting employees in the Social Security plan with most of the rest of us, and 2) we could very well be overpaying new city employees relative to the private sector for similar jobs.

It has long been assumed that high-dollar pension plans were needed to attract people to lower-paying city/public sector jobs; without the additional pension kick, it has been assumed, people would take private sector jobs instead. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, though: Given the relatively high level of unemployment and the hiring pullback in the private sector, there are a lot of people who are looking for a good, stable job wherever they can find it.

And even with the city’s recent pay cuts and layoffs, being employed by the city is still more stable than being employed just about anywhere else (with the possible exception of the state and federal governments, and it would be a good idea to rein in those pension plans, too). So there’s likely not a need for Dallas taxpayers to pay additional money for pensions to entice employees to take and stay in city jobs.

Unfortunately, the study is projected to take about a year to complete, which seems like a long time for some fairly simple number-crunching. Maybe we should try this same idea on the consultants first — tell those bidding on the job we need the study in four months (enough time to consider changes prior to the next city budget cycle) and we’re not paying additional money to “fast track” it. My bet is that some qualified, hungry company out there will be able to get the job done quickly and correctly.

Ultimately, if we’re serious about cutting the size and cost of city government, identifying ways to hire new employees at a more economical level makes a lot of sense these days.


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