Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti was being kind when he used the word unconscionable to describe proposed 3 percent annual pay raises for the 115 union employees of the Children Services Board. A more appropriate word would be stupid — given that the raises were approved by members of the CSB governing body just two weeks after voters renewed a 0.85-mill real-estate tax levy that generates $1.75 million annually.
Is there is any doubt that the levy would have been rejected by a wide margin had CSB officials made it known during the fall election campaign that passage would mean a fattening of the employees’ wallets?
Like the thousands of county residents who did cast a “yes” vote, we strongly believe in the work the CSB does. As we said in an editorial endorsing levies for the Children Services Agency, the county Mental Health Board and the Board of Developmental Disabilities, “We know times are tough, but how can we turn our backs on the social service agencies that care for children in need, residents who are developmentally disabled and individuals with mental health challenges?”
We can’t — especially at a time when the national economic recession has been particularly hard on those who are most in need.
The renewal of the levies demontrated the generosity of the people of Mahoning County.
Repaying that kindness with pay raises for public employees feeds the perception of many private-sector taxpayers that government workers don’t recognize today’s economic realities.
Let there be no doubt about how the voters will react to the pay raises: When the 0.85-mill levy is put up for renewal in five years, it will go down in flames.
Fortunately, Commissioner Traficanti and his two colleagues, David Ludt and John McNally, have the final say on the wage hikes. A “no” vote is demanded — and expected.
“It’s unconscionable, and we’re going to bring the Board before the commissioners and have them explain this.” Traficanti, chairman of the board of commissioners, said recently.
Ludt, who lost his re-election bid and will be leaving office at the end of the year, said he has been inundated with calls at work and at home from residents who say, “We passed the levy, and now you’re giving them a raise. I’m for putting a [wage] freeze on.”
The raises were contained in a three-year contract CSB negotiated with the Communications Workers of America, which took effect Feb. 1, 2009. The county commissioners approved the contract, but imposed a salary freeze.
Recently, the union, which represents clerical and group-home workers and social workers at the child welfare agency, asked the board to revisit the raises.
The increases were approved by vote of 9-1.
This is not the time to be bolstering the salaries of the employees, not with county government facing major financial challenges.
Commissioners Traficanti, Ludt and McNally should meet with CSB officials and board members and tell them “no.”