Luzerne County deciding which non-union employees will receive raises

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Pedri -

Performance evaluations are underway for 180 non-union Luzerne County employees to determine which ones will receive raises.

County Manager C. David Pedri said it’s the first time the county is providing varying raises based on merit, as opposed to standard across-the-board hikes for all.

Employees will receive 2 percent, more, less or nothing depending on a detailed analysis that weighs their on-the-job productivity, length of service and other factors, he said.

“You can’t just show up to work and get a raise,” Pedri said Thursday. “In the past, raises were given out indiscriminately without consideration of whether the workers were doing a good job.”

The administration originally requested $163,425 in the 2018 general fund operating budget to award raises of up to 3 percent, but a council majority voted to reduce the allocation to $108,000, or enough for 2 percent increases. Additional costs will be covered by state funding and other revenue that applies to most or all expenses in several departments, including human services, the administration said.

Pedri said he will meet with division heads next week to discuss the completed performance evaluations and set the raises, stressing the overall expenditure won’t exceed council’s budget earmark.

The employees receiving raises and the amounts will be public record because council’s administrative code requires the manager to notify council of non-union compensation changes at least five days before they take effect, Pedri said.

At the urging of Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck, council added the five-day requirement in 2014 to ensure the elected body was informed in advance. Under the home rule charter, the manager can still proceed with raises without council’s blessing as long as the funds are budgeted, officials have said.

County Budget/Finance Division Head Brian Swetz emailed a memo to county employees Dec. 29 saying non-union raises will appear in their Feb. 2 paychecks. Any raises will be retroactive to Jan. 1, and the portion of the raise covering the start of the new year will be paid by the Feb. 16 payroll, his memo stated.

Citizen Brian Shiner is publicly questioning this retroactive application, saying the raises should not kick in until they are officially approved by the administration.

Pedri said the raises are for 2018 and should cover the entire year. He noted most union raises are retroactive and not based on performance.

‘Not taking easy way’

County officials have been promising merit raises since 2005 and continued the pledge under the home rule structure implemented in 2012. Formulating a system that survives accusations of favoritism has been the challenge, particularly in a public system where the winners and losers will be known.

Pedri told council the administration developed a 50-page manual on the evaluation process and trained managers before implementation.

“This is standard in business. I’m trying to bring a more businesslike atmosphere to county government,” Pedri said. “We’re not taking the easy way out.”

The county’s five-year financial recovery plan, which was prepared by Harrisburg-based consultant Public Financial Management in 2015, also suggested the county examine the potential benefits of a “pay-for-performance” compensation structure linking pay increases with high performance levels, the manager pointed out.

Performance evaluations will continue annually, even if council does not allocate funds for raises, Pedri said. He believes employees should receive such formal feedback.

“This will hopefully motivate other non-union workers to do better,” Pedri said.

Many non-union employees received pay increases in 2016 based on an outside analysis that concluded their compensation was below industry standards. These raises followed an eight-year pay freeze, and increases were not funded in 2017, Pedri noted.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.