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County summer raises hit $225K

Published: Sun, October 9, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

T.J. Assion is my poster boy for the struggle that is government operations.

He is the union president of the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department and, generally, a good guy to spend a few beers with and talk football, kids, or in the case of the past year that I have been watching county pay raises, county operations from his colleagues’ viewpoint.

The deputies have a lot to say about county compensation.

They are the work force that, as you read this today, gave $3 million back to the county over the past three years in the form of wage reductions, surrendered uniform fees, hazard pay and a host of other concessions. In 2010, 210 jail beds were closed and 66 deputies were laid off — increasing the work burdens on the remaining staff.

I first met Assion last January, not long after I wrote about the crazy pay raises of 15 percent and more in the office of county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains. At that time, though he had tones of frustration in his voice for the imbalance in county worker pay issues, he was strongly loyal to his county peers, even applauding Gains for going to bat the way he did for his workers.

That was in January, or better put, $600,000 in pay raises ago.

In those nine or so months, deputies are still on layoff, attack incidents on officers, according to Assion, have risen inside the jail, and cells stay closed.

Today, Assion’s tone is a bit different.

Over the summer, $225,000 in pay raises were handed out around county operations.

“It’s pretty sad when a cook at the juvenile center or a typist in the veterans’ office make more than deputies, who put their lives at risk,” said Assion when presented with the latest data.

Like many of the trends in county pay, much of the new money is going to folks who aren’t making a ton of cash. Of the 240 staffers who received raises from May to August, 70 of them have annual salaries under $30,000; 60 people earned between $30,000 and $50,000.

But 18 raises went to people, mainly managers, making more than $60,000 annually, including county Health Commissioner Matthew Stefanak, who earned his third raise in 12 months to total $103,000.

Of the $225,000 in raises, about $114,000 of that went to Judge Theresa Dellick’s juvenile-court area. The raises were 3 percent or 4 percent in just about all instances. Of the 103 staffers to get raises there, half earn less than $30,000 and tended to be the ones who received the 4 percent bumps. Upper staff received the 3 percent.

“We’re very cognizant of how hard it is economically in our community,” said Anthony D’Apolito, juvenile court administrator and magistrate. “We would not want to slap anyone in the face by disregarding the challenges that exist in the community we serve.”

D’Apolito said offering raises was a tough decision, but was made with several factors in mind.

In 2009, juvenile court staffers took 5 percent pay cuts. Since that time, the court has trimmed staffing by 48 employees overall, and cut $1 million in spending drawn from the sales tax. They’re also anticipating an impact on staffers in whatever shakes out from the Issue 2 process, especially increased shares in health-care costs.

“It’s my honest-to-God opinion that we’re trying to do the right thing for people doing their best to serve in a depressed county that is also a cynical county because of the past governments. I know the perception that’s out there. I hope we can overcome it,” D’Apolito added.

The county health board raises bother me a bit more, and illustrate to me the problems that will roll on with government spending regardless of what Issue 2 attempts to fix.

It’s a $5 million annual agency with about 70 percent of the funds coming from some form of taxes — local property, federal payments and incremental amounts from local governments.

Its 39 staff raises in June and July were like the court’s in that they were capped — these at 2 percent. But opposite of juvenile court, the health board’s lower paid staffers received 1 percent compared to 2 percent for upper staff, including Stefanak.

But what bothers me more about the board’s trend is this: D’Apolito acknowledges it’s a depressed county, and that staff sat flat on their pay for two years after taking a 5 percent cut. Assion’s deputy co-workers have totaled $3 million in givebacks since 2009, including a 10 percent pay cut that is still in place.

But since 2009, the health board’s pay raises have just rolled along without pause. In 2008, the top health staffers took a six-month pay cut by dropping to four-day workweeks.

The pay was restored in 2009 and topped off with 3 percent raises. Raises in 2010 totaled 2.75 percent. In January, Stefanak and four other top staffers received raises up to 1.5 percent. And finally, they got an additional 2 percent this summer.

Stefanak, who’s retiring next year, said his staff, like others, is doing more with less, and the raises are an attempt to keep quality people.

The board had 63 staffers in 2007, and now has 48 people. Of those reductions, five were upper-management posts.

Both the court and the health department employed identical rationale that is just not working in the private sector, or with the deputies — which is justifying the raises due to increased duties. Piling on duties is happening virtually everywhere, including the jail, with no compensation changes tied to it in most cases that I know of.

Another logic annoyance I have with the health board mind-set: One staffer who was promoted a few years ago from within the department has had raises of 5 percent or 6 percent each of the past three years to get that position’s pay level to $70,000 — what it is at peer health districts.

Stefanak said peer pay was the same logic for the January 2011 raises of 1.5 percent for him and a few other top staffers. (That same logic was employed with beefy Youngstown State University raises that I pointed out this summer.)

There is no legal requirement for that. It’s a tool used more when you have to do it, not when you just want to do it.

But this board wants to do it.

Reasoning for that, to me, is this: Why does the top boss, Stefanak, need raises of 2.75 percent, 1.5 percent and 2 percent over the past 12 months when he is retiring next year? He’s not about to leap to a better-paying health district in Franklin County.

Hence, it’s not about peer and position.

It’s about power and pension.

And when you see it across so many pockets of government, you realize it’s not just a YSU thing; it’s not just a health board thing; and, ultimately — because these are management jobs — it’s not an Issue 2 thing.

It will, however, be a deputy thing.

The government body that’s given the most will, soon enough, have many of their $3 million concessions up for review.

And Assion’s been keeping score. He has a little less esprit de corps about all of this than he did back in January.

Government actions, in time, even wear out government staffers.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com.


1author50(1121 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

It's money from Heaven - at least for those lucky enough to be slopping at the trough. The Deputies should be getting paid better, but they are not - is that the taxpayers fault or the fault of the people elected to make such decisions?

However, our local government with the support of the media and the government vendors will tell us to RASIE TAXES to balance the playing field.

The problem with that, is that there isn't any money left and Mahoning County continues to tax, waste and spend itself into a bottomless pit.

Very sad.

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2pac1234(21 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Lets not forget-this is the area time forgot. How dare anyone try to earn a decent wage in Mahoning County. It is almost laughable that this is news. Three percent raises, those are some huge wage increases.What could the cook make...I am guessing around $35,000 give or take-wow that is a small fortune. I forgot, this is the area of "I never got off the bar stool to get mine so noone else can achieve anything". What a sad pitiful area....

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3paulparks(235 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago


You've got it all wrong. Public employees only work about 50% of the time - so they are way overpaid - even the deputies.

Don't get "sucked in" to having sympathy for these lazy government employees. They don't deserve anything they don't get.

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4pac1234(21 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

You may be correct Paul. It just seems there is alot of bashing towards anyone who does try provide for themselves be it private industry or the public sector. And truth be told I dont feel the MSO needs a union, maybe a young, progressive thinking Sheriff

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5toddfranko(101 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

You are right about the low wages, and I've said that several times over this year-long look at county raises. And I did so in this piece.
This is not a look at wages; it's a look at new spending in an era when new revenues are tough to find for anyone -- public or private.
If you work for Apple or a Marcellus Shale outfit, you likely have new revenues to spread around your staff. Do it, and love it, and buy a new Cruze with it.
But new revenues for anyone else -- especially government -- are hard to find. That's certainly true for the Valley. That's certainly true these last 3 years.
The raises in this piece are hardly as lucrative as what Gains did in January. But in fairness to all, and especially the deputies, it ALL deserves examination.
The health department especially fits this, and I swallowed hard a bit in calling these guys this week because I kind of see it like you. Yes, it was only 2 percent in June. But it was 1.5 percent 6 months ago. And it was 2.75 6 months before that. And 3.00 12 months before that.
Pile on that philosophy across one department's entire workforce, then across many departments, and what you have is "We need a new tax levy because we can't afford to operate."
I don't agree with paulparks' "lazy" charge, and I hate that doing these stories subjects people -- some of them friends of mine and Vindy customers -- to unfair charges like that.
But I hope we can overcome the low points of this debate and see the bigger issues.

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6pac1234(21 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Todd, I too have friends in the public sector and private industries. Some are lazy and will be lazy at no matter what job they have and others love to work and assist their fellow man. You are right though-revenues in Mahoning County are just not there and sadly I think they will keep decreasing. I will admit I am a cynic but after 40 plus years of hearing the same rhetoric from this area and just watching it get worse every day gets old. Anyway, thank you for a lively dIscussion on an otherwise boring Sunday morning. You dont seem as mean spirited as I originally thought-we probably share some of the same opinions. Have a good day and enjoy the weather while it lasts.

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7ytown1(398 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Nice reply Todd,

What most public employees fail to acknowledge is most if not all private companies provide no where near the benefits and perks they once provided'

Why you ask, because the economics are just not there to provide them anymore, not because they are greedy, but because our economic climate has been forever changed due to 9/11, NAFTA, 2008 Mortgage/Bank meltdown among a few. Our country will probably never be the same either. Can we get out of this, yes but the same never, reflect on 9/11 and my point is well supported.

As far as the Mortgage/Bank issues that is not just in the USA, it is a worldwide issue also.

So Todd, we have to get the public employees to understand that how things were done before are not how things are going to be done in the future, get used to it.

This is not about doing more with less, it is about right sizing like most corporations have endured, why do they feel they are exempt, the formula should include options to adjust if the conditions warrant, among other options, if they want to negotiate for more employees, then the rest may need to sacrifice if there is no options for additional taxes to support it/

I will use the last Boardman Township Tax Levy as an example.

Do not run a campaign like Boardman Township did using spoon fed gloom and doom articles supported by your newspaper and by the way have disappeared since it was passed, to only shift the lion share of the money to the general fund, Then only turn around and look for more funds from the sales tax, do you honestly feel if they were to accomplish that that they would give back the last two levies to the residents of Boardman, I think not.

But anyway Todd, keep informing the taxpayers and stop allowing them to manipulate you into campaigning for them to get tax levies passed when we just cannot afford more.

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8fd6636(289 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Isn't what Kasich did with his staff the same, if not worse than whats going on here? Show the same outrage with gov. Kasich giving his favorites double digit raises with the same furor as you do here!

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9candystriper(575 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

...watch those retiring now will try to get the same position working for the private contractor that will provide future county health department services...you know the same one they have been negotiating with...lol

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10author50(1121 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

As long as the SPINdicator (as ytown1 correctly pointed out) keeps repeating and not reporting the REAL stories - the citizens of Mahoning County will have tax and levies shoved down their throats every primary, special election and general election, because the SPINdicator makes big bucks with government ads. But it is not just the SPIndicator - Clear Channel Radio and Bill Kelly make sure the taxpayers giveth until it hurts too.

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11toddfranko(101 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Monday email from reader working with county, but not for county:
Thank you sir for the great writing. It is time the public found out about some of those dirty, little secrets! I don't work for the county. I have been (at facility) 15 years and have become friends with many a deputy. What they have given up over the years is shameful. I will never understand why those who put their life on the line are not compensated for it. Would any of our judges or other departments want to sit in a huge room with 36 alleged murderers, rapists, child molesters milling around them for peanuts? I think not. Well, there is so much more, but we all need our jobs. Again I thank you for a fantastic article.

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12AtownAugie(892 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Mr Franko -- Maybe I missed something related to the pay raises in the county prosecutor's office: Mr Gains found the time to create-from-scratch a letter for Mr Betras as a political favor that the chairman then hand-carried to the secretary of state last week, but Gains could not find the time to provide some already-existing material to a defense attorney, thus causing a judge a couple of weeks ago to dismiss murder charges?

Mr Franko, when younhave the opportunity, would you Please tell us, Mr Prosecutor, that you wrote Mr Betras' letter on your OWN time since your taxpayer funded work-day is sooooo busy that you cannot give any attention to a lowly, minor, devil-may-care MURDER case.

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13AtownAugie(892 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

(please excuse the above comment -- my iPad jumped the gun)

Mr Franko -- Maybe I missed something related to the pay raises in the county prosecutor's office: Mr Gains found the time to create-from-scratch a letter for Mr Betras as a political favor that the chairman then hand-carried to the secretary of state last week, but Gains could not find the time to provide some already-existing material to a defense attorney, thus causing a judge a couple of weeks ago to dismiss murder charges.

Mr Franko, when you have the opportunity, would you please ask the prosecutor: Mr Gains, did you write Mr Betras' letter on your OWN time since your taxpayer funded work-day is sooooo busy that you cannot give any attention to a lowly, minor, devil-may-care MURDER case?

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14NoBS(2832 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

The above story and some of the comments are reasons SB 5 is the wrong answer. Those same deputies (and firemen, cops, road workers, utility workers, etc.) who are underpaid by your own admission, are the same ones who will bear the brunt of the "punishment" that SB 5 hands out.

Your problem is with the prosecutor's office being overpaid? Go after them, not the people who just go to work every day, do what's expected of them, and endure ever-more browbeating from the pro-SB 5 crowd.

There are examples all over the valley, as well as in your editorial, that collective bargaining works. Public employees all over the valley have given concessions, given back raises, been on pay freezes for multiple years, and so on. Lumping them in with the handful who continue to abuse their authority says clearly that the real agenda isn't about fiscal sacrifice.

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15NoBS(2832 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

jessiedavid, nothing about collective bargaining is or has been either secret or a scam. You don't like it. I get that. You think public employees are getting something you're not, and instead of working and striving to get that for yourself (you know, the way Republicans used to be?) you instead take the easy way out, and demand everyone else be brought down to your level. I get that, too. But don't repeat obvious propaganda and conspiracy theories and expect anyone who's not already drinking the KoolAid to take you seriously.

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16NoBS(2832 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

jessiedavid, I'm not scared, and I'm not verbally attacking anyone. If you think disagreeing with you constitutes a verbal attack, you need to grow some thicker skin. You're not "merely asking legitimate questions" - you're purposefully using inflammatory rhetoric, I guess to elicit an emotional response. If I called you a coward, said you were stealing your wages instead of earning them, called you immoral, and said I can't wait until you and yours are out of a job (those are all just from the above post - your other posts are full of such garbage), you'd be crying and offended all over the place. But you're only parroting Kasich's talking points. Everyone knows - public and private sector alike - that Kasich has a clear agenda to crush public employee unions and whip the public workers into submission. Most people can put two and two together and realize the private sector unions are next.

I'd like to see you, and only you, get your wish - I'd like to see you, and only you, live in a world without cops, firemen, nurses, teachers, utility workers, and so on. I don't wish that on anybody else, but since you're just giddy in anticipation of more of the middle class losing their jobs, I say you should have it.

I'll repeat from my first post - if the problem is one out-of-touch group, go after that group. Don't screw over the people who aren't demanding raises, who aren't working part time and being compensated as if they were full time, and who aren't the problem.

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17davemck616(3 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

I was from out of state and didn't know anyone when I moved here in 1983. I obtained a County job through hard work and getting to know people while working in the private sector (10 years). This BS about Public workers and the Private sector is crap. The reality if you want to face it: this Administration is waging a war of American vs American. We would not even be in this BS if he did not want chaos. It is called "Class Warfare". Wake up and quit fighting each other. We are all peons in his mind. Unless you make 10 million a year as he made last year. He has over one Billion in his Campaign chest:. Really. Don't ya think he is going to reap some of that "Obama Stash?". Worker against worker is playing into their hands. SB5 will not make that much difference in the public sector any way. So you have to pay a little more for you Health Insurance. Welcome to the real world my friends. Most are non union workers. We need to get real and realize who the real enemy is. It is not each other.....

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