Mahoning County commission- ers have to do more than just give Prosecutor Paul Gains and Engineer Richard Marsico a verbal thrashing for granting pay raises to some of their employees. They should present the two officeholders an ultimatum: Withdraw the increases or suffer the wrath of the keepers of the public purse.
Commissioners Anthony Traficanti, John McNally and Carol Rimedio-Righetti control the county’s general fund, which supports most departments.
Thus, the trio could cut funding to the prosecutor’s office by $197,670, which is the increase in salaries Gains is paying this year compared with 2010. All his 32 assistant prosecutors are getting more money — ranging from 3 percent to 22 percent. The 22 percent was given to Rebecca Doherty because of her promotion to chief of the criminal division.
Gains, who has been the county’s chief lawyer for 15 years and is up for re-election in 2012, is unapologetic and, in fact, insists that the pay boosts are justified, proper and reasonable. He is wrong, of course, which is why the commissioners must do more than just talk about how disappointed they are in him.
A reduction in his funding may well result in a lawsuit being filed by the prosecutor, but that isn’t a bad thing. In a court proceeding, Gains would be required to support his contention that the office would lose experienced staff members if they aren’t compensated adequately and demonstrate that his employees lag behind their peers in comparable counties.
As for the county engineer, the commissioners have no control over his budget since the office gets its money from gasoline tax, license plate fees and fines.
Marsico gave $70,242 in increases to five engineers on his staff, and, like Gains, defends his action on the grounds that his people are deserving of the higher salaries, which he says are comparable to what the Ohio Department of Transportation pays.
While commissioners Traficanti, McNally and Rimedio-Righetti do not have the power of the purse when it comes to the engineer’s office, they do have the authority to ask the state auditor’s office to conduct a performance audit.
If Marsico refuses to rollback the pay raises, the independent evaluation of his office, especially with regard to staffing and compensation, must follow.
Both the prosecutor and the engineer make the argument that their employees are so valuable that losing them would cause Mahoning County government undue hardship.
We have rarely bought the argument that government employees are indispensable, and we certainly aren’t buying the claim that good people will leave in droves.
Where will they go in this economy, with a national unemployment rate of 9 percent and a local jobless rate in double digits? There are veteran lawyers and engineers who would jump at the chance to work in the public sector, where the salaries are respectable, the benefits are exceptional and the pensions are unmatched.
One reason for padding the pay of any government worker is clear: the higher the salary, the larger the pension. It isn’t about job performance or the threat of departure. It’s all about public employees fattening their wallets at the expense of the private sector taxpayers.
Gains, Marsico and every other officeholder be warned: Get with the program, or you’ll be trampled in the rush by private sector taxpayers to oust you.