Last updated: February 19. 2013 3:52PM - 570 Views

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Salaries, length-of-service bonuses, health insurance and other payroll costs for Luzerne County's 1,452 employees will total $91.5 million next year, according to a new report presented to county council during Monday's 2013 budget hearing.

County Manager Robert Lawton logged each position by title and charted the additional costs to provide a complete personnel cost to council. It was more informational because the report includes employees in human service branches and other departments only partially funded by the proposed $122.25 million, no-tax-hike budget.

Lawton said the proposed budget does not include pay raises for non-union employees, which means these workers face a sixth year without an increase.

The county will spend $1.3 million on union-negotiated pay increases next year, the report said.

Longevity bonuses will total $517,830, and employees are expected to receive $31,153 selling back sick days.

Lawton has started tracking employees as full-time equivalents, or FTEs, which is a system used by the federal government to compare workloads. For example, a part-time assistant public defender is logged as 0.50 FTE.

The county's full-time equivalent employees will decrease 47 -- from 1,499 to 1,452 -- next year, Lawton projected.

Councilman Rick Morelli asked about the impact cuts will have on services.

Lawton said the administration reviewed caseloads and workloads to come up with position eliminations – vacant and filled – that make some sense. He anticipates further staff reductions through attrition.

Councilman Stephen A. Urban asked if the day reporting center, which he supported as a prior commissioner, has impacted prison staffing.

The prison eliminated 18 correctional officer positions – eight filled and 10 vacant – effective Nov. 1.

However, Lawton said the prison is now at the minimum correctional officer staffing levels permitted by the union contract.

Prison Warden Joe Piazza, who was in the audience along with most county department heads, said 90 offenders currently participate in the day reporting center, which allows them to remain on home confinement instead of being lodged in the prison.

The budget allocates more than $1 million for the center, but Piazza said the county is spending $30.58 per day on offenders at the center compared to $94 for prison lodging.

The prison has been down 25 to 50 inmates, largely due to the center, for an overall inmate population ranging from 700 to 750, Piazza said.

County Controller Walter Griffith said he is concerned his office won't receive budgeted funds to hire a certified public accountant or financial auditor to complete audits according to standards required by the home rule charter.

Griffith said he has two auditors, and one is almost fully devoted to auditing 17 magisterial districts. He said he will present suggested cuts in supplies and other areas to Lawton and interim Budget/Finance Chief Vic Mazziotti.

As the only check and balance in this government, I think it's almost irresponsible for council not to give this office staff, Griffith said. Without the staff, it's really a slippery slope we're standing on.

He said he believes the staff in several other county offices has been severely cut.

It's getting to the point where it's dangerous, Griffith said.

Urban suggested further cuts in judicial branches, saying the controller's office must have sufficient staff so the controller doesn't become a puppy dog rather than a watchdog.

Citizen Mike Giamber said the federal government has turned to outsourcing to reduce costs and suggested the county explore the potential savings for custodial and security services.

It's painful, but it works, he said.

What's next

County Council will meet at 6 p.m. Nov. 13 in the county's Emergency Management Agency Building, Water Street, Wilkes-Barre. Another council budget hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at the same location.

The county will spend $1.3 million on union-negotiated pay increases next year, the county manager's report said.

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