Members object to 3 percent salary increase
By David Skolnick
The Mahoning County Board of Elections officially rescinded 3-percent raises for department employees over the objections of one of its members.
The board voted 3-1 Tuesday to take back the raises given to its 12 employees Jan. 21. The raises lasted for about six hours after conflicting statements in response to questions asked by The Vindicator.
“Everyone is aware of the controversy,” said board Chairman Mark Munroe. “It might make sense to back away for the time-being, do additional research and due diligence. We can back away because of the [county] sales tax.”
There were conflicting statements from board officials and county commissioners about the latter approving the raises while trying to get two sales taxes — a 0.25 percent new tax and making a 0.5 percent renewal tax permanent — approved by voters on the May 6 primary ballot. Only days after the board of elections’ raises issue, the commissioners opted to not put the new sales tax on the ballot.
Also, a printout that Director Joyce Kale-Pesta, a Democrat, gave board members of salaries of other election directors and deputy directors from comparable counties that showed Mahoning County with the second-lowest salaries had incorrect data and was two years old.
Kale-Pesta — whose annual salary was to increase from $73,143 to $75,337, and who made $58,000 annually about two years ago — offered to resign Jan. 23 as a result of fallout from the raise issue.
The board declined to accept her resignation.
Though no one at the board of elections received the raises, members decided last month to take formal action to rescind the pay increases at its next meeting, which was Tuesday.
Republican board member Tracey Winbush voted against the motion to officially take back the pay raises.
“The raises given to them wasn’t a great amount,” she said.
Overall, the pay raises cost $17,023 in additional payroll spending.
“We should stand by this decision [to grant pay raises] because we knew what we were doing,” Winbush said.
She added that board clerks make their jobs “look easy,” but they really “are difficult.”
Robert Wasko, a Democrat board member, said he “was well aware of the pay-raise issue before [last month’s] meeting. It wasn’t thrown at me.”
Munroe, who heads the county Republican Party, and Vice Chairman David Betras, who heads the county Democratic Party, said last month that Kale-Pesta gave them the salary-increase proposal as a late item just before the meeting.
Board clerks earn $40,433 a year and that would have increased to $41,646 under the pay raise.
Clerks were paid $36,100 annually until Jan. 14, 2013, when they received 11.2 percent raises increasing their salaries to offset having the county no longer pick up the workers’ 10 percent portion of their retirement with the additional 1.2 percent to keep them at the same take-home pay because the raises increased their taxes.
Kale-Pesta said county commissioners and board members were previously told about the raises.
“In our defense, it wasn’t something that we threw at you,” she told the board.
Munroe said other county employees received raises last year, adding: “Commissioners losing their minds over what we did is disconcerting.”
Betras said board employees are “all paid well.”
Winbush shot back, “So is everyone sitting here.”
Munroe and Wasko said they want to revisit the pay raises in the future without being specific.
Betras said he’s not interested in discussing pay raises.
“I can’t say ‘never,’ but not in the foreseeable future,” Betras said.
He also suggested any pay raises be given to employees after job-performance reviews.
“If they hit certain benchmarks we can consider raises,” he said.
“We don’t have a review process” to evaluate employees.
Munroe agreed, saying “adopting a more formal policy for raises is a good idea.”
But Winbush said, “I don’t agree,” with Kale-Pesta adding, “Me, neither.”