The members of the county council of Lucerne decide on a possible salary increase for the head of division

Some members of the Luzerne County Board offered mixed reactions to County Executive Randy Robertson’s plan to raise the salary cap for three vacant division chief positions.

Robertson told the board he planned to raise the cap to $99,500, saying he believed the action was necessary to attract highly qualified candidates for the “extremely difficult and very complex positions.”

He stressed that this was a maximum and that the actual salary offered to selected candidates would be based on their qualifications. Remuneration that was paid to the last employees in these three positions: Chief Counsel/Head of Legal Division, $96,444; administrative services division manager, $90,874; and head of the operational services division, $91,087.

The director can raise salaries without council consent as long as funds are budgeted, although he must provide five days’ notice to the council under his administrative code. In this case, the administration has determined that funds from vacancies could cover the increase in compensation this year.

If Robertson goes ahead with his plan, the positions would be re-advertised with the new salary maximums.

Councilor Kevin Lescavage said he was “a little discouraged”. Robertson informed the board of the decision before obtaining comments on the issue of compensation from all board members. He said his one-on-one session with the new manager was not scheduled until July 1.

Lescavage said he wants to cut spending where possible because he won’t vote for a tax hike later this year, saying homeowners can’t afford to pay more amid rising inflation. “gets ridiculous”.

By the way, Robertson had already informed the division chiefs shortly after his arrival that he would not be recommending a tax increase this fall due to the impact of inflation on all residents. If a dire situation arose, Robertson would work to provide options for possible service reductions for the council, he said.

Councilman Brian Thornton said he thinks council should hold a town hall meeting with Robertson to share his views on compensation and benefits before the administration makes any salary adjustments.

Thornton said he basically agreed the county should strive to keep wages competitive, but said the first goal should be to find room within the existing budget.

The Council will also have to vote on five new collective agreements to replace those that expired at the end of 2021.

Lescavage, Thornton and Councilman Stephen J. Urban also disagreed with a comparison to other counties used to illustrate that pay here is too low, saying most are better off with populations, average salaries and higher tax bases.

Urban said the county’s benefits and pension are generous.

“I realize it’s a tough time to attract talent, but you have to give and take,” he said, noting that he will convey that message during his session with Robertson next week. “It’s still a public service at the end of the day, and we have a finite amount of money.”

Board chair Kendra Radle said she supports the goal of making compensation competitive to attract strong employees and retain existing quality division heads.

“It’s a good idea in theory, but we need to make sure any increases can be built into the budget,” Radle said.

Council Deputy Chairman John Lombardo said Robertson, during his short stint on the job, had already identified some of the county government’s key issues, including vacancies and staff turnover.

Lombardo said he would not support a tax hike this year because many middle-class homeowners struggle to pay their existing property taxes.

“Hopefully Randy, through his experience, can figure out where we’re spending too much money and not enough money and balance the scales,” Lombardo said.

Councilor Chris Perry said Robertson has the right to increase the division chief’s pay if he identifies funds and determines it is warranted.

Councilman Tim McGinley said he had already informed Robertson that he thought the pay change was “a bit premature” and should be delayed until Robertson resolves pending union contracts and dives into the proposed budget for 2023.

William M. Mayer