After months of back and forth, raises have been approved for 90 non-union Luzerne County Court employees who haven’t received pay increases in six years.
The main hold-up: The judiciary had $134,000 in budgeted funds available to cover the raises this year but needed a budget transfer to move the money into the appropriate salary category in at least one department.
The county’s home rule charter says council must approve budget transfers needed to increase salaries or create new positions — prompting county Manager Robert Lawton to refuse to sign paperwork allowing the raises.
Court officials maintained the budget transfer approval did not apply to the courts because state law gives them sole authority over how their budgeted funds are spent, as long as they don’t exceed the overall roughly $25 million allocated by the county for all court branches.
However, the court ended up reassigning a court reporter department employee to court administration, which freed up budgeted salary funds in the court reporter’s budget to cover the raises without a transfer.
Court officials also agreed to permanently eliminate several positions to ensure the raises were “sustainable” in future years, said county Court Administrator Michael Shucosky.
Council majority approval for court raises would have been unlikely. The 210 non-union employees outside court branches are not receiving raises at this time and also have gone six years without increases because of ongoing budgetary problems.
Several council members also have argued non-union raises should be decided as part of the 2015 budget because this year’s budget increased taxes 8 percent and furloughed workers.
County Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik said he and Lawton were forced to allow the raises in the payroll system because the budget/finance division verified no transfers were required.
Lawton has said the administration has no say in court personnel actions if court officials have budgeted funds. The manager handles personnel decisions in all county departments except court branches and the district attorney and controller offices.
Shucosky has said court officials are proceeding with the raises now because county officials have refused past court requests for pay increases and numerous supervisors are paid less than the unionized employees they oversee.
Lawton’s administration is seeking a consultant to analyze appropriate pay scales for the future awarding of non-union pay raises if money becomes available in future budgets.
Parsnik said two companies responded to the county’s request for proposals to complete the study, and he is conducting reference checks on the one the administration has tentatively selected. He expects the study to be completed by the end of the year.
Parsnik said is awaiting a response from court officials on whether they want to include court branch workers in the compensation evaluation.
Shucosky said court officials are considering the offer.
“We’re reviewing the methodology and process that will be used to determine if this is something that will be beneficial to the operation of the court system,” he said.
Most of the 90 court employees are set to receive $1,500 increases. Supervisors, department heads and a handful of employees handling increased responsibilities will receive more than $1,500, Shucosky said.
The raises are expected to take effect in Friday’s payroll and will be retroactive to April, when the court formally submitted paperwork seeking the increases, officials said.
Shucosky already has publicly announced court officials won’t seek an increase in overall county funding for 2015.