Monday, July 21, 2014

County court non-union raises run into headwind

March 24. 2014 11:22PM

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Luzerne County Court officials are considering raises for roughly 90 non-union employees who haven’t received salary increases in six years, but at least one county council member is questioning the timing.

Council Chairman Rick Morelli said non-union raises were not factored into the county’s 2014 budget, which raised taxes 8 percent and furloughed workers. He believes court officials should hold off and justify the expense as part of the 2015 budget preparations this fall.

“You have to look at the big picture and public perception if some people will get raises when taxes are going up and people are getting laid off,” Morelli said.

The emergence of funds to grant raises is another concern, he said.

“When budget time comes, everyone says they have no room to cut. Then after the budget passes, they have money available,” Morelli said.

Vacant positions

Court Administrator Michael Shucosky said raises may be possible because the court has pushed to keep some positions vacant this year after workers left, including a law clerk position budgeted at $85,000 in pay and benefits. He projects the raises would cost less than $120,000.

“Any adjustment will be based upon the availability of money in this year’s budget, and the court will not exceed the budget,” Shucosky said.

Court officials have requested permission to provide raises in the past, to no avail, he said.

During planning for the 2013 budget, Shucosky asked county officials to include $1,000 raises for court employees in the spending plan without increasing the court’s allocation.

Instead, county officials provided one-time $1,000 bonuses to all non-union workers, not just those in court branches, who had worked several years without increases. The bonuses did not increase employees’ salaries.

“We have numerous situations where supervisors are being paid less than the people they supervise and where salaries are not anywhere commensurate with level of responsibility,” Shucosky said.

Morelli said the same problem exists in non-court branches, but officials continue their struggle to cover mandated expenses with available revenue.

“We’re still not out of trouble financially, and next year’s budget won’t be any different. We won’t have a windfall, and most likely it will put more pressure on all county branches to cut more,” Morelli said.

County Manager Robert Lawton has said he can’t stop pay increases in court branches if court officials have budgeted funds to cover the expense. The administration has no say in court personnel actions.

The manager handles personnel decisions in all county departments except court branches and the district attorney and controller offices.

Pay scale review

Lawton’s administration is seeking a consultant to analyze appropriate pay scales for the future awarding of pay raises if money becomes available in the 2015 budget.

Employees in non-court branches supervised by the county manager also will receive performance reviews this year as mandated by the personnel code.

Court officials already restarted performance evaluations of more than 300 employees in court branches in 2012 and are wrapping up a second round of reviews, Shucosky said. Non-union workers have been expected to continue increasing performance without the incentive of contractual raises granted to union workers, he said.

“Over the years the non-union employees have paid increases in health care, been asked to do more with less and seen their workforce shrink — giving them more responsibilities — and yet their salaries have not kept up with even a cost of living increase,” Shucosky said.

Lawton has echoed this sentiment in his departments, saying he believes several recent employee departures stemmed largely from the county’s lack of non-union raises for several years and the stress of budget-related staff cuts that have forced many departments to perform the same level of work with fewer people.

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