Luzerne County managers get a boost

Last updated: April 25. 2014 11:36PM - 1779 Views
By - jandes@timesleader.com

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Two veteran Luzerne County Court managers will receive $3,000 raises that push their salaries over $80,000, said county Court Administrator Michael Shucosky.

Jim Davis, who was hired by the county in 1978 and has been overseeing Domestic Relations since 1981, will be paid $81,169 with the $3,000 increase, records show.

Michael Vecchio, a county employee since 1982 who was promoted to probation services director in 2009, is slated to receive $81,160 after the raise begins in the May 2 paycheck, Shucosky said.

Court officials are proceeding with raises for about 90 non-union court branch employees, saying these employees haven’t received pay increases in six years while raises have been granted to union workers they supervise. The $133,795 in raises will be funded with salary savings, Shucosky said.

In response, county officials have maintained the court raises should be put off and considered as part of the 2015 budget process, when increases also will be considered for the 210 non-union workers in non-court departments who have gone the same amount of time without compensation adjustments.

Shucosky said the raises for Davis and Vecchio were higher than most as part of an “attempt to make their compensation comparable to county division heads.”

Division heads

Eight division head positions overseeing multiple departments were created under the home rule structure that took effect in January 2012. The compensation varies: $70,000 for the heads of administrative services and judicial services and records, $75,000 for correctional services, $85,000 for budget/finance, $87,000 for human services and $90,000 for the attorneys who work as chief solicitor and chief public defender with no outside legal practices permitted.

The operational services division head position must be filled by an engineer and is vacant, but the last person in the job received $75,000.

A review of the county’s 2014 position budget shows the only other employees with salaries over $80,000 are the county manager ($110,000) and eight workers in the District Attorney’s Office. The elected district attorney receives $173,598 by law. The first assistant district attorney is paid $87,100, and six of the unionized detectives have salaries ranging from $90,831 to $100,245.

As part of the court raise package, up to 10 supervisors will receive $2,000 pay increases, Shucosky said. Two supervisors received $3,000 because they took on additional work responsibilities over the years involving video conferencing and protection-from-abuse matters, he said.

The remaining rank-and-file, non-union workers received $1,500 pay increases, he said.

Court officials started applying the higher compensation in payroll records last week so impacted employees will start receiving the increase May 2, he said.

County Manager Robert Lawton and his administration can’t stop the raises if court officials have budgeted funds to cover the expense, though the administration must sign off on the raises verifying the budgeted funds are available, officials say.

The administration hasn’t completed this verification because the court has not furnished all requested budgetary information, said Lawton and county Administrative Services Director Dave Parsnik.

“We need to make sure funding is in those line items to cover the expense for the remainder of the year,” Parsnik said.

Shucosky said any outstanding information will be furnished so the May 2 implementation isn’t delayed.

Not retroactive

The court raises are not retroactive. Shucosky noted the state will reimburse two-thirds of the cost of raises in domestic relations.

Former county controller Walter Griffith recently sent council members a message urging them to take action to stop the court raises.

Council has authority to transfer the court savings funding the raises to another non-court budget category so it can’t be accessed by court officials, Griffith said. However, the court would have the option to sue if the council alters its budget allocation.

Council members did not broach the subject during last week’s public voting session.

Former county Judge Mark Ciavarella filed a suit against past commissioners in 2008 when they passed a budget with $1.9 million in court salary cuts, arguing the courts would not have the resources to carry out justice. However, the suit was withdrawn by Ciavarella’s president judge successor, Chester Muroski, after Ciavarella stepped down during the corruption probe.

The courts ended up furloughing 25 workers and eliminating 14 vacant positions in 2009, saving the county $2.1 million in salaries and benefits.

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