Ninety-four non-union Luzerne County court branch employees received 3 percent, across-the-board raises in Friday’s pay, according to county Court Administrator Michael Shucosky.
The raises range from $800 to about $1,500 and will cost approximately $110,000, he said.
Court raises weren’t expressly earmarked during county council’s 2018 budget discussions.
Instead, Shucosky had said court officials would review the possibility of raises in early 2018 because those workers had not received increases since 2014.
Shucosky said Friday the raises will be funded by salary savings from keeping vacant positions unfilled and replacing some employees who leave with new workers who make less. Several vacant positions are under review to determine if cutting them will jeopardize services, he said.
Court officials wanted to initiate the non-union raises in Friday’s pay because that’s also when around 200 unionized probation/domestic relations officers and clerical staff in court branches started receiving 2-percent raises required under their collective bargaining agreements, Shucosky said.
The impacted employees work in probation services, domestic relations, magisterial and county courts and as stenographers.
“This should not be a surprise,” Shucosky said. “We never said we were not going to provide raises.”
In comparison, council allocated $108,000 in the 2018 budget to provide raises of up to 2 percent for as many as 180 non-union county employees outside of court branches. County Manager C. David Pedri had requested $163,425 for raises of up to 3 percent.
Under home rule, the county manager handles personnel decisions in all county departments except court branches and the district attorney and controller offices.
Raises for non-court employees are scheduled to appear in Feb. 2 paychecks because the administration is completing its assessment of the first performance evaluations.
Pedri has 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 has said.
Shucosky said court officials have been completing annual performance evaluations of all court branch employees, including unionized ones, for five years.
All 94 receiving raises were deemed worthy of increases, he said.
“Because we have been doing evaluations for years, we have been able to correct deficiencies in employee performance when discovered,” Shucosky said. “People who are not willing to meet the standards have left our employment whenever necessary.”
A uniform percentage was applied to all to cover cost-of-living increases since the last raise in 2014, he said. Pinpointing employees who deserve more than others would be “extremely difficult,” Shucosky noted.
“We decided to reward everyone for doing good work,” he said. “We value our employees greatly, and we strive to make sure they are paid fairly for the work they perform.”
Shucosky said the court’s 2018 budget of $19.09 million is comparable to the prior year, and he said the court has come in below budget the last six years.
This year’s budget indicated $8.127 million in revenue is expected from court branches to help offset their expenses. Probation services accrued collected funds to increase its 2018 revenue by $500,000, he noted.
The state will cover two-thirds of the cost of raises in domestic relations, he said.
Council member not happy
Pedri sent council members an email Friday afternoon informing them of the raises.
“As you are well aware, county management does not oversee nor determine compensation for judiciary employees,” Pedri wrote. “We were informed by the courts of their decision to provide these compensation increases, and I am doing my due diligence by informing council of the same.”
Council has no power to stop the raises because the court does not have to request a budget transfer, Pedri said.
County Councilman Stephen A. Urban blasted the raises Friday, saying court representatives were not publicly open about the likelihood that raises would be granted during budget sessions.
Before home rule was implemented in 2012, court officials had to obtain county salary board approval at a public meeting to grant raises, Urban said. The three commissioners and elected controller sat on the salary board. The judiciary had a fifth vote on position changes in their branches.
“Home rule gave the court more power to give out raises and lock the county into higher costs down the road,” Urban said.
Shucosky said court officials did not commit to raises during the budget because they had to wait for a final council decision on their allocation.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.