First Posted: 4/19/2013 12:31:30 PM
Luzerne County Council members will discuss the elected controller’s pay this year because the home rule charter allows them to alter the compensation at least 12 months before a new term begins.
The controller’s seat will be up for re-election next year, with the winner taking office in January 2014. Incumbent Walter Griffith has said he plans to run again.
The controller pay has been $36,562 for years.
Past commissioners discussed increasing the salary over the past decade but never acted.
Under the old government system, a single row officer salary couldn’t be increased without raising the compensation of other elected row officers and commissioners the same percentage.
This package deal isn’t an issue with the new home rule government because the elected treasurer, recorder of deeds, register of wills, sheriff, coroner, prothonotary, clerk of courts and three commissioner posts have been eliminated.
According to news archives, the last row officer salary increase was adopted in 1992 because elected officials had been earning the same pay their predecessors received in 1979.
Raises that had been approved in 1982 were discontinued in 1987 after public outcry, and the salaries had reverted to 1979 levels.
The controller in Luzerne County is paid less than counterparts in the 11 other similarly-sized third-class counties in the state, according to figures from the Pennsylvania State Association of County Controllers.
Northampton, with a controller salary of $39,000, is the only other third-class county that pays the controller under $40,000, the association said.
The remaining salaries, according to the association: Berks, $78,526; Chester, $70,240; Cumberland, $65,403; Dauphin, $82,950; Erie, $61,935; Lackawanna, $66,174; Lancaster, $79,369; Lehigh, $62,500; Westmoreland, $62,152; and York, $72,712.
At minimum, the compensation warrants discussion, council members agree.
Council Chairman Jim Bobeck said the discussion should focus on the appropriate pay and responsibilities of the position, not the current office holder.
“We’re not making a decision on any current person, but simply what is best for the county for the future,” Bobeck said. “We have to pay an appropriate salary to get quality people.”
Council Vice Chairwoman Linda McClosky Houck said she doesn’t know if the county is in a financial position to increase the salary. A pay hike won’t guarantee the seat is filled by a certified public accountant because the choice ultimately depends on who runs and who is selected by voters, she said.
“There also is a certain element of public service in taking these elected positions,” she said.
Councilwoman Elaine Maddon Curry said the home rule charter now requires the controller’s office to complete audits according to recognized governmental auditing standards, and nobody in the controller’s office has the educational qualifications needed to meet that standard at this time.
“Ideally the office should be held by a CPA so that all audits can be conducted in-house, but of course that would likely require an increase in salary for the controller position,” she said.
Councilman Tim McGinley said the salary should be discussed because the controller is “a very critical position in the county government.”
Councilman Rick Morelli said he’s open to discussion but initially opposes a controller increase amid recent budgetary layoffs. Most county non-union workers haven’t had a raise in years, he said.
Griffith said he believes the current compensation is fair and should not be increased when all departments are “doing more with less.”
“I think council should look at it, but I don’t think increasing the pay is a good idea at this time,” he said. “I think there are many people in our county who don’t come close to making $36,500 with benefits.”