First Posted: 2/27/2015

WILKES-BARRE — As the number of city employees decreased during the three terms of Mayor Thomas Leighton, the overall pay has gone in the opposite direction over that 12-year period.

A review of the executive orders Leighton signed at the beginning of each year he’s been in office showed wages and salaries have risen more than 20 percent, while the workforce has undergone a simultaneous reduction of approximately 11 percent. Compensation for city’s 308 employees in 2004 was $12.19 million. This year began with 275 employees with a total compensation of $14.96 million.

With The Great Recession and the slow crawl out of the economic downturn as the backdrop, wages have steadily risen for the majority of city workers. Contracts negotiated with the four unions representing more than 90 percent of the employees included annual pay raises. For the most part, administrators and elected officials, including Leighton, have piggybacked onto those increases.

The mayor’s salary was budgeted at $84,779 this year, up 12.6 percent from when he moved into the mayor’s fourth-floor office in City Hall in 2004. During that stretch, however, he did not take an annual raise for seven years, only bumping it up 3 percent last year as the city’s finances improved.

From Leighton’s standpoint, the city is doing more with less. The workforce has shrunk through attrition and employees have taken on additional responsibilities, he said. With those added duties comes more pay, depending upon the extent of the extra work, he said.

He defended the salaries of his staff. Anyone who’s worked in government knows people depend upon and expect that services are provided, he said. It takes good people to get things done, he said.

“I expect a lot of them,” he said, adding his senior staff does not get paid overtime and works more than 40 hours a week. “Nobody’s really let me down.”

In comparison, he pointed to the turnover of personnel at the Luzerne County level.

“They’re not willing to pay people what they deserve,” Leighton said.

When factoring in inflation, Wilkes-Barre’s payroll under Leighton didn’t keep pace, pointed out Mark Price, Ph.D., a labor economist with the Harrisburg-based Keystone Research Center.

The average price level increased 25 percent while Wilkes-Barre’s pay increased by 23 percent during the years in question, he calculated.

“That’s broadly similar to the experience of the typical worker in Pennsylvania,” Price said.

Before adjusting for inflation media wages for all Pennsylvania workers, private and public, rose 22 percent to $17.19 an hour between 2004 and 2014. When inflation is factored in, the median wages are down about 3 percent during that period, he said.

“Of course these are general trends and will miss the experience of particular workers in particular industries,” Price noted.

“I’m expecting to see more wage growth this year for the typical Pennsylvania worker and as long as the economy stays healthy over the next few years we should see more workers make up the ground they lost thanks to the Great Recession,” he said.

Salary benchmarks

City spokeswoman Liza Prokop explained how the salaries of the mayor, city council and the controller — all elected officials — and members of his administration are set.

“The mayor determines administration staff salaries based on industry standards relevant to average compensation for officials in third-class cities,” Prokop said Friday. “In 1990, the city’s charter was amended for elected officials’ compensation which allows salary increases at the lowest percentage increase given to any city employee union through collective bargaining.”

Despite that language, city council imposed a pay freeze nearly 10 years ago.

Council members pay has held steady at $13,199 since 2006. The $14,699 annual salary for council chairman hasn’t budged either.

Bill Barrett, a former city police chief, has been on council as long as Leighton has been mayor. Barrett said council unanimously voted to freeze its pay back then.

“We thought it was the right thing to do,” he said.

The salary for former city Controller Bernie Mengeringhausen stood at $38,027 from 2007 through 2009. It increased to $41,533 in 2010 and remained the same the next year.

The salary increased to $42,780 when Kathy Kane took office in 2012 and has risen annually during her four-year term to $48,150 this year.

Of the 17 other positions in Leighton’s administration, three were created within the last two years — municipal affairs manager, commander of operations and commander of investigations, both in the police department. Of those three, the salary for the municipal affairs manager position dropped this year by more than $10,000 to $36,050 from $46,350. Andrew Lafratte took over for Drew McLaughlin who left last year to attend law school.

Each of the police administrators, Joseph Coffay, commander of investigations, and Robert Hughes, commander of operations started at annual salaries of $74,876. The pay for those positions increased 3 percent to $77,123 this year. John Curham became commander of operations in November, replacing Hughes who took over in October for police Chief Gerry Dessoye. The chief’s salary increased to $94,045 this year from $91,305 in 2014.

Leighton reinstated two other positions that had been vacant for a number of years. Ann Toole joined the administration as deputy city administrator. Her salary increased to $77,250 this year from $72,034 in 2014. Alan Klapat was named deputy fire chief last year. His salary was listed as $77,122 this year. The position was last included in the 2004 budget with a salary of $51,788.

Several members of the administration received either no increase or a minimal one temporarily, their freezes spanned a shorter period than some of the elected officials.

Key administrators

Fire Chief Jay Delaney’s salary remained at $78,527 in 2010 and 2011. It increased to $86,063 the following year and has risen since then to $94,045.

City Attorney Tim Henry’s salary held at $50,638 in 2011 and 2012. It increased to $53,723 in 2013.

It stood at $56,996 this year. Assistant City Attorney William Vinsko’s salary increased to $46,841 in 2012 from $46,840 the previous year. It rose to $49,695 in 2013. The position pays $52,722 this year.

The city assessor’s salary likewise increased by $1 to $34,649 in 2012 from $34,648 in 2011. The position held by John Anstett has a salary of $39,000 this year.

The Human Resources Director salary stood at $75,324 in 2011 and 2012. The salary dropped to $65,946 in 2013 and the position held by Ellen Meehan increased to $69,964 this year.

City Administrator Eileen McCormick retired last year.

The longtime city employee replaced J.J. Murphy. He relocated to work as city administrator of Hobbs, New Mexico. Murphy started in Wilkes-Barre in 2004 at a salary of $66,000. It was $81,120 when he left in 2010. The salary increased to $83,553 in 2011, inched up to $83,554 in 2012 and climbed to $88,643 the next year.

The post paid $91,303 in 2014. The position held by Greg Barrouk pays $87,550 this year.