Luzerne County debated the appropriate compensation for employees during Monday's budget hearing as officials discussed division head salaries and possible raises for non-union employees and the next elected controller.
County Manager Robert Lawton said he budgeted maximum salaries of $75,000 for five of the eight division head positions created by the home rule charter.
He said he also allocated $85,000 for an operations director because an engineer is required and $90,000 for the chief solicitor and public defender because the attorneys hired must be full-time with no outside legal practices.
Lawton said all vacant division head positions will be publicly advertised after the 2013 budget is adopted by council. He said he based the maximum salaries on a recommendation an outside consultant had made to the home rule transition committee.
Councilman Stephen A. Urban said he believes council should review job descriptions to determine appropriate compensation and questioned whether the positions are needed.
Raises came up because a majority of council previously agreed increases should be considered for roughly 300 non-union employees who haven't received pay hikes in five years.
The court proposed $1,000 across-the-board raises for its employees.
Several council members said they'd prefer raises based on merit and questioned whether those at higher salaries should receive as much as others.
Councilman Eugene Kelleher said he wants to see a report on the number of employees paid below the median salary.
Councilman Jim Bobeck said he believes council should consider allocating a lump sum and allowing the manager to determine how to correct pay inequities.
Lawton agreed to provide council with data on various options. Awarding merit-based raises would be difficult at the beginning of 2013 because the county hasn't performed employee reviews identifying workers' strengths and weaknesses, he said. Merit raises are typically determined after a second evaluation, he said.
County officials have been discussing the need for formal employee evaluations for years, and court officials are currently conducting evaluations.
As a result, council members said raises may have to wait until the end of 2013.
The controller's future salary came up because the home rule charter allows the pay to be altered before an election, and the seat is up for grabs next year.
The controller's pay has been $36,562 for years, which is lower than all other 11 similarly sized third-class counties.
Council agreed to revisit the topic after Lawton supplies a report on the compensation in other counties.
Controller Walter Griffith, who plans to seek re-election next year, said the salary should remain the same. He stressed the county can't set minimum education and experience required to run for the post.
A majority of council also expressed an interest in eliminating county-funded health benefits for non-union employees who work less than 32.5 hours, saving $45,000. The change would impact four attorneys in the county solicitor's office.
Council also discussed the possibility of expanding the health care elimination to non-union employees who work less than 40 hours per week as part of a goal to switch all employees to 40-hour work weeks.
In other business, Councilman Edward Brominski questioned why the prison is providing meals to some employees at no charge. Lawton said county Prison Warden Joe Piazza was out of the area Monday but will provide an explanation when he returns.
Urban also urged the administration to stop allowing detectives to take home county-owned vehicles. Lawton said he is preparing a report on county vehicle usage for council.