Hey employees, remember 'perks'?

In our new reality of pink slips, furloughs and freezes, don't you just want to gather together the youngest employees where you work and amaze them with stories of the olden days?

Once upon a time, you'd say, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the economy had a pulse, some jobs came with things called "perks." These you got in addition to your actual paycheck.

There were "pensions" and "cost-of-living adjustments" and "raises" that actually made your paycheck go up, and sometimes bosses even sent employees out of town on "junkets" to learn more about their jobs. It's true. Check Wikipedia.

But that was then and here is now, when many perks are perks we can't afford, like employing a butler when you don't have enough spare change to pay the light bill. Particularly in government work and on the taxpayer dime, every perk deserves serious scrutiny and the potential scalpel.

So why a reprieve for a high-end perk in St. Petersburg?

As the Times Michael Van Sickler reported this week, the city pays car allowances, most between $92 and $135 a month, to 141 of its already best-paid employees, mostly managers and administrators. That's $201,852 a year meant to offset the costs of employees having to use their cars for work.

In short, one perkalicious perk.

Except, as it turns out, many of those employees don't have to drive much for work anyway.

And, huh?

No doubt this made more sense in the economic climate in which it was created more than two decades back, perks being a way to compete for better employees.

But it continues today even as the city's next budget proposes cutting dozens of jobs, slashing hours for pools and libraries when financially tapped residents need them most, and upping recreation fees, also on the backs of citizens. And those citizens are supposed to understand given the times we're in and take the hit.

So how come that car allowance doesn't get similarly cut?

Mayor Bill Foster declined to pluck it from his 2012 budget, saying he doesn't want to take money from the pockets of people who haven't seen raises in three years. (Which would currently describe many a working person.)

Yes, it would feel like a pay cut, though the pain must lessen the more zeros your yearly salary has. Protecting employees, even your highest-paid ones, is nice. Making taxpayers wonder if they just heard someone say "let them eat cake" — less so.

Some on the City Council — which notably does not get car allowances — are making the right noises of consternation and saying people should have to start showing they actually drive on the job. The mayor said next year, he will have them record their mileage a few months "to see if changes may be warranted."

Next year? We can cut libraries now but sidestep a good look at this? What's hard about proving a car allowance involves the use of an actual car?

For the record, other local governments have car perks, though none anywhere near what St. Petersburg doles out to middle and upper-management. Serve those up for serious scrutiny, too. Pricey perks that don't seem to serve their stated purpose should go the way of the dinosaur.

Hey employees, remember 'perks'? 07/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 9:55am]

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