County’s 2011 starts with $360K in pay hikes


The roads in Mill Creek Park can be a mess to navigate.

Enter off Glenwood, turn here, turn there, you think you’re headed toward Boardman, and then find yourself staring at waterfalls.

Or ... enter from Boardman, go this way then that to get to Lanterman’s Mill — and you come out at the Par 3 golf course.

Some Mahoning County leaders seem to have taken their spending cues from the Mill Creek road design — because nothing in what they do adds up, connects us to where we should be, heads in a straight line or allows for a clear view of where we’re headed.

For a park setting, that is wonderful.

For use of tax dollars in a depressed area, it’s deceitful.

In the last six weeks, 150 Mahoning County employees have received pay raises totaling more than $360,000.

Let me pause for just a second so we’re on the same page ...

The county pulls the largest share of our tax dollars and carries the most employees. Before one light goes on in the county, as I wrote last week, $10 million in taxes goes into county-worker pension funds.

So in singling out the county, it’s looking at the biggest piece of the pie in our tax dollars. Their actions dictate plenty. Their attitude can dictate a lot more.

And the attitude is, currently, that we have plenty of money to spend on county workers.

Quick math:

If the $360,000 in new wages for 150 county workers this month trends out to the entire county work force for the year, that’s nearly $4.8 million in taxes going to raises.

That’s unlikely to happen, as evidenced by the county worker who provided me the pay-raise information this week.

“I’d sure like to be getting that raise,” she said as I glanced at the public records she gave me. So I bit on that, and asked when was the last time she got a raise. It was three years ago.

Clearly, she’s not working in the county engineer’s office, where $65,000 in raises just got signed off on, or in the prosecutor’s office, where $197,000 in raises just got approved.

Here’s how that money got spread around:

In the office of Prosecutor Paul Gains, 32 non-union staffers got raises this week:

Three raises were at 3 percent or less.

Twelve people got raises between 4 percent and 9 percent.

Fifteen people were between 10 percent and 20 percent.

Two people got raises at 21 percent and 22 percent.

Some of the people given raises this week also received 6-percent-plus raises in July.

In the office of Engineer Rich Marsico, 25 managers received raises:

Nineteen of the raises were between 2 percent and 5 percent.

Four of the best raises were to his top managers. They all received 11 percent and 12 percent raises.

Here are raise highlights from elsewhere in the county:

Judge Dellick’s community-relations director got a 10 percent raise. Another staffer got a 6 percent raise.

Seventy-four raises were in Job and Family Services, ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent.

The much-maligned Children Services Board offered five staff raises between a half-percent and 3 percent. That’s Nobel-worthy when matched to Gains’ raises.

The overall numbers are astounding.

But the stubbornness may be worse — albeit polite stubbornness.

I talked with Gains, Marsico and Marilyn Sferra-Kenner. She is Marsico’s No. 2 and owner of his biggest pay raise — 12 percent to $95,929 annually. Given the nature of the call, all were polite in their comments.

But damn if they just don’t get it regarding us — the taxpayers and our own jobs.

“I need to do it to be able to keep people,” said Gains on Thursday. “I’m going to still lose people. I’m doing the best with what I think is right.”

Two of Gains’ biggest raises involve folks with promotions and duty changes.

Rebecca Doherty jumped 22 percent to $81,000 to take over Bob Bush’s duties. He left to take over Job and Family Services. Doherty’s former job is not being filled, said Gains.

Ralph Rivera jumped 19 percent to $61,500 for his new tasks.

Gains’ list of workplace challenges rings the same bells as Marsico’s:

Fewer staffers doing more work, not filling positions, clerical work being done by profes- sionals — essentially everything going on in the private sector, but only an endless stream of taxes to offer raises.

Marsico said his raises were an attempt to make up for several years of freezes.

He noted that the money also was an attempt to keep managers on par with what the union staff receives — including allowances for clothes and boots.

Gains said that his staffers are making less than attorneys in Trumbull County or the city of Youngstown.

While Gains’ money comes from the sales taxes, Marsico’s budget is a blend of fuel taxes, license-plate fees and more. Nothing comes from the sales tax.

His department’s 2010 revenues ended with a surplus — funds that are bound to his department and not to other county operations.

In short — if you wanted to use engineer’s funds to add a jail guard to keep an extra thug off the street, you can’t. You have to plug a pothole or fix a traffic signal.

Or in the case of Marsico — hand out raises and pay for managers’ clothes and boots.

“These are dedicated government employees who’ve taken initiative to bring in more money and do more work to bring expertise to the public,” said Sferra-Kenner.

She said she debated Marsico on the raises and knew they would be a problem when they became public.

But he said he wanted this to keep his staffers who were looking to leave, including Sferra-Kenner, who just finished her 30th year with the county.

“I want compensation for all the work I do, and I tried for it elsewhere.”

County Commissioner John McNally, who presides as board president this year, was still digesting the raises when we spoke Friday.

The structure of county government is such — and you can debate if it’s poor or not — that Commissioners McNally, Anthony Traficanti and newbie Carol Rimedio-Righetti have no control over pay raises issued by other elected officials — courts, prosecutor, engineers, coroner, auditor, etc.

So the raises were just as much news to him this week.

“I don’t buy the argument for making up of wages,” McNally said. “Making things up is not something the county can afford to do. We’ve just gone through a period where CSB was taken to task for raises negotiated, we still have employees laid off or taking days off each period ... and we have this?”

A lawyer himself and engulfed in his own legal battle with Gains, McNally was silent over the phone as he digested some of the individual raises and the rationale.

He plans a meeting next week with Gains and Marsico.

“There’s no fear of losing quality people. Lawyers come in, do well, and they’re rewarded with better jobs. There’s no shortage of lawyers to pick from to gain experience,” McNally said.

“Justice won’t suffer.”

But apparently, taxpayers — the ones not enjoying 5, 10 and 15 percent raises, and not the accompanying pension payments, and not the clothes and boots allowance, and not the makeup on wage freezes — they can suffer with less in their pockets.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes e-mails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at He blogs, too, on

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