Six executive secretaries in Luzerne County’s court system have each received $3,704 pay increases, despite a countywide directive that no non-union raises would be granted this year.
The raises, which total a combined $22,221, will increase the secretaries’ salaries from $42,000 to $45,703.57.
The six secretaries — Julie Berry, Nancy Biscontini, Gina Bowen, Joann Elko, Rebecca Madden and Nicole Marek — were hired last year to work for newly appointed judges, officials said.
County Manager Robert Lawton said he can’t stop the pay increases because court officials have budgeted funds to cover the expense and 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.
County officials gave $1,000 bonuses this year to several hundred non-union employees who have gone five years without pay increases and promised to develop a performance evaluation system and review of appropriate pay scales for the future awarding of pay raises if money becomes available.
County Court Administrator Michael Shucosky said court officials agreed to start the six secretaries at lower probationary salaries last year to assist with the county’s request for budget cutbacks.
“The county was so desperate for money last year. We started them at a lower rate to try to save money for the county,” he said.
Shucosky said he made it clear the salaries of the six must be bumped up after a year, and the cost of the raises was included in the court’s 2013 budget. All 10 judges must be treated equally under the judicial code, which extends to compensation for their staff, he said.
“The arrangement was that after one year, the six secretaries would get parity with secretaries for other judges who are doing the same job,” Shucosky said.
Shucosky said the six secretaries did not receive $1,000 bonuses, and no other raises for non-union court employees will be granted this year.
Salaries for the same county position vary widely depending on the department and employee seniority. The county employs 110 secretaries, administrative assistants and executive secretaries. Of that, 53 are paid $30,000 to $39,999, 32 receive $40,000 to $49,999 and four have salaries of more than $50,000.
Shucosky believes the salaries for judicial executive secretaries are fair and appropriate based on their workloads and handling of sensitive and confidential material.
Court officials have completed job descriptions and conducted performance reviews of all employees in their branches, including supervisors, last year, and another round of evaluations is slated for next month, he said. The court also is conducting its own salary study to determine if county compensation is in line with pay for court employees in similarly sized counties, he said.
Shucosky said he will again request funding for non-union pay raises in the court’s 2014 budget proposal. A recent performance audit in the court’s domestic relations division identified union salaries exceeding management salaries as a problem, he said.