Judge awards pay raises despite fiscal emergency

Anyone who feels underpaid can look for another job, the mayor said.
GIRARD -- Upward adjustments to the salaries of some employees in the Girard Municipal Court were necessary despite a projected financial shortfall at the court this year, says Judge Michael Bernard.
Judge Bernard gave a 6-percent pay adjustment to 16 employees in the court as of Aug. 12. He said magistrates, part-time employees and himself were excluded from the pay adjustment.
According to Judge Bernard employees in the court had received less 1-percent pay increases between 2001 and 2005. He said the small pay raises were not in step with inflation.
"This was a true cost-of-living adjustment," he said.
Judge Bernard said he compared the raises received by court employees to the national average pay raise as provided by the United States Department of Labor. He said the court employees were actually behind by 7.3 percent.
"I felt the 7.3 percent was too high," he said. "The 6 percent was more appropriate."
The court's expenditures this year are expected to be $250,000 more than its revenue, but Judge Bernard said the pay adjustments will not increase the deficit. He said $36,000 was taken from a surplus in the probation services fund to cover the additional pay and benefits.
The mayor responds
Mayor James Melfi is not happy with that explanation.
"This sends the wrong message," the mayor said. "This city is in fiscal emergency and all efforts should be made to emerge from fiscal emergency before any personal raises are given."
Melfi said any surplus funds should have been put into the general fund to cover the courts financial shortfall. Melfi said the money to cover the $250,000 deficit will come from the city's general fund.
According to Melfi, in light of the city's financial troubles, all four unions dealing with the city have taken a pay freeze from 2004 to 2006. He also said no members of management, including himself, have received a pay raise since 2002.
"Quite honestly anyone who feels they are underpaid can look for work elsewhere," the mayor said.
Judge Bernard said the adjustments were necessary and the court's financial shortfall is not the fault of the employees. He said civil filings are up 22 percent over the last year, criminal filings are up 2 percent over the last year, but traffic tickets, which generate revenue, are down by 50 percent over the last three years.
"We run a good tight ship over here and everyone is doing what they are suppose to do, but the tickets are not coming in," he said.
According to Judge Bernard, the court, until now, has not had a deficit in his 11 years as judge.

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