Last updated: February 19. 2013 5:27PM - 651 Views

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Luzerne County government's roughly 280 non-union employees may receive $1,000 raises next year if county Manager Robert Lawton finds cuts to offset the expense in the no-tax-hike 2013 budget.

Eight of 11 county council members attended the second round of 2013 budget hearings Wednesday, and they all agreed raises were worth exploring because non-union employees haven't received pay increases the last five years.

Several council members cited poor employee morale.

Lawton estimated the increases would cost under $300,000.

The discussion surfaced because county acting Court Administrator Michael Shucosky said court officials wanted to provide flat $1,000 increases to non-union employees.

He said 24 unionized domestic relations support officers and 60 probation officers are paid more than their supervisors.

Providing the same pay raise to all non-union workers would allow those at the lowest salaries to receive the highest percentage increases, he said.

Shucosky said the court's proposed $20.26 million budget next year has no fluff, but he would look for ways to fund pay increases for roughly 102 non-union court employees without requesting additional county funds.

The court's 2013 budget is a $3.39 million reduction from this year's $23.6 million allocation.

Shucosky gave council statistics showing court branches employ 320 this year, compared to 365 in 2009. The court will eliminate 19 positions in next year's budget, his report showed.

County council members praised the courts and many other departments for understanding the county's fiscal limitations. Shucosky said he kept his pledge earlier this year for a new era of cooperation between the courts and administration.

Joan Hoggarth, interim director of the Judicial Services and Records Division, said she's confident more cross-training and other efficiencies will allow the departments under her authority to get by with a total 2013 increase of $188,412.

County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis was the only department head outright objecting to the county's 2013 allocation during Wednesday's session.

She implored council to provide funding to keep a detective slated for layoff and restore several vacant assistant district attorney positions cut from this year's budget.

The office's 23 assistant district attorneys are struggling to keep up with growing caseloads, she said. She cited one part-time assistant who has more than 110 cases on his trial list.

That is unacceptable, she said.

Councilman Jim Bobeck wasn't swayed by the plea, saying the district attorney's budget is slated to increase 11 percent next year, to $5.01 million -- an increase other county departments would kill for.

He said she could fund several additional assistant district attorneys by eliminating a second detective position. He noted the detective union contract recently awarded through binding arbitration would allow detectives to retire with health insurance until they're eligible for Medicare.

Just administrate, Bobeck said, reminding her that was her campaign promise. The solution seems to lie within.

Salavantis cited rising crime rates and said the county's 10 detectives are more than valuable providing assistance to local police departments. Detectives handled 176 major investigations through Oct. 31 this year, and requests for their services come in left and right, she said.

Union raises, rising health care and additional costs for major trials -- including $200,000 set aside for the Hugo Selenski case -- ate up most of the increase, she said.

Salavantis said her office has larger caseloads and fewer attorneys than the Public Defender's Office, which obtained additional staff through a lawsuit against the county. She said council should not take that statement as a threat that she's planning to sue.

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