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For officials, ‘unconscionable’ is in the eye of the beholder

Published: Sun, December 5, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

As Mahoning County leadership continues to fumble its way around spending and paychecks for 2011, here are some random grabs at the performances:

A salary of $32,000 per year for Mahoning County employees paid to look out for the welfare of the Valley’s most vulnerable children is not an unconscionable amount of pay. The county pays the plow drivers and pothole pluggers more.

And a salary of $60,000 for a lawyer is not an unconscionable amount of pay, either.

I think most of us in the private sector believe that. But what many of us find unconscionable is the politicking and posturing about county workers by county workers — and what they expect despite what the real world is going through.

Some county workers like to chide The Vindicator once in awhile for our stories, editorials, columns and message boards for items they say cast them as money-grubbers.

But some of the worst government-worker manipulation comes from their own flock.

The Children Services Board has been chided for planned pay raises revealed just days after persuading county taxpayers to renew their levy. The voter plea for more money centered on kids, not paychecks — hence the concern when raises were announced.

That’s poor representation, and county Commissioner Anthony Traficanti was justified in summoning the word “unconscionable” to describe it.

But where was “unconscionable” when county Prosecutor Paul Gains sat before leaders just days earlier and asked for a 60 percent budget bump for his department to pay wages?

The irony of Gains’ request for more money is that in July, 20 or so of his staffers got raises. Some raises were small — about $1,000 per year.

Some were larger — up to $5,000.

We’ve heard for months at the microphones their messages of “wage freezes” and “furloughs” and “givebacks.” But quietly behind the scenes, some workers are cashing in.

While half of Gains’ staff got July bumps, what he said Nov. 9 was that they lost 15 percent of their pay here and 10 percent of their pay there.

But the July raises were not mentioned.

Many rank and file in the county engineer’s office got slight bumps this year as well.

“It’s in the contract” is what engineer’s staff will say.

“It’s a step plan” is how Gains explained his raises.

That might explain it. But it doesn’t justify it — to the hundreds of co-workers eager for the same, nor to the thousands of citizens who aren’t getting the same.

County sales-tax collections for 2010 are trending higher than 2009 when you compare month-to-month receipts. And for the year, 2010 likely will eke out a bit more than 2009 — by just a few hundred thousand dollars or so.

While this is some good news, comparing 2010 to a few years back is less glowing.

Only three months in 2010 fared better than 2008 collections. When compared with 2007, only one month in 2010 has earned more; and 2006 had seven stronger months than 2010 collections.

Given this bigger revenue look, Gains, Traficanti and others are reckless to cherry-pick their raises and their arguments for things they deem unconscionable.

Holding to the vow of wage freezes and givebacks might cost some workers who may opt for jobs elsewhere.

But it’s what has been happening in the real world and will continue to happen.

And it’s the real world that funds the land of make-believe.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes e-mails about story tips and our newspaper. E-mail him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com

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