Commissioners dispute raises for courts

Judge Cronin said the raises were built into the court's budget request.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners are planning to rescind a $361,600 addition to the common pleas courts 2005 budget today because 3 percent raises were OK'd for the court's 30 employees.
In a memo to the judges Wednesday, commissioners said they were taking back the money they gave Aug. 4 to the courts because the money was used to "alleviate potential operational deficits and include pay raises for employees."
Commissioners say they discovered this week that Judge Maureen A. Cronin, the courts' administrative judge, had signed pay raise paperwork Aug. 5 and had forwarded it to the county auditor's office.
The courts' employees are the court administrator, assignment office and jury commission staff, magistrates, bailiffs, secretaries and court stenographers.
Budget revision
The county's budget commission in June amended the county's estimated certificate of revenues from $39.9 million to $48.9 million.
The additional money came from the commissioners borrowing $7.3 million to keep the county jail operating while under a federal court order, and an additional $1.7 came from revenue generated by real estate taxes, sales tax from the last quarter of 2004, interest income, and final payments from the federal government for prisoners who were held in the jail.
Commissioners asked various departments what it would take for them to make it through 2005 if extra income became available. Commissioner John A. McNally IV said that at no time were raises even discussed.
Commissioners originally gave the common pleas courts $1.75 million in February. The courts had asked for nearly $2.2 million.
McNally said commissioners were told by court personnel the $361,600 would be sufficient to get the courts through the year.
Commissioner Anthony T. Traficanti said he received a call complaining that commissioners had given raises to the common pleas court workers. He and McNally checked out the call and discovered the judge's pay-raise order.
"We're telling our employees and other county employees they can't get raises, and then the courts turn around and do this," McNally said. "I just don't agree with that."
Traficanti said, "If we had known about the raises, we would have carved out that amount" from the appropriation.
Judge Cronin said she was shocked by the memo from commissioners.
"We [the judges] believe we told them about the raises being built into our budget during budget hearings," she said.
Judge Cronin added if the commissioners had carefully reviewed the budget request, they would have seen the pay raises and could have asked about it at that time.
Judge Cronin said the issue will be discussed soon with the other trial division judges -- R. Scott Krichbaum, Jack M. Durkin, James C. Evans and Maureen A. Sweeney.
McNally said conversations between the court and the commissioners on funding have been good for this year. The courts do have the authority to set pay rates and order their full budget, but had not done so, he said.
The commissioners' memo said, however, "the pay raise issue should have been discussed with the board prior to last week's appropriation."
Traficanti said commissioners are the appropriating authority, but they are powerless to dictate to officeholders what they can or can't do with the money given to them.
Both commissioners said the additional money given last week to the county courts ($105,000), the county elections board ($300,000) and emergency 911 ($50,000) was meant to maintain current payroll in those departments through year's end.

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