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Questions halt Mahoning elections board pay raises

Published: Wed, January 22, 2014 @ 12:10 a.m.

Mahoning County Board of Elections puts 3 percent pay raises on hold





RELATED: Board of elections salaries

By David Skolnick



Mahoning County Board of Elections employees started Tuesday with a 3 percent base-pay salary increase.

That lasted for about six hours.

By 2 p.m., after conflicting statements in response to questions raised by The Vindicator, those pay raises were put on hold with the board looking to repeal them the next time it meets.

And by 6 p.m., 10 hours after the vote, board Director Joyce Kale-Pesta said she listened to a taping of the meeting and the board never gave a date to enact the pay raises even though it was understood that it was to be retroactive to Jan. 1.

While the board had planned to rescind the raises, it now won’t as a date wasn’t part of the board’s motion, Kale-Pesta said.

At an 8 a.m. Tuesday meeting, the four board of elections members approved the 3 percent pay increase proposal, with David Betras, the board’s vice chairman and the county’s Democratic Party chairman, justifying it in light of the county commissioners’ plan to put a new 0.25 percent sales tax and renewal a 0.5 percent sales tax continuously on the May ballot.

“The only thing I’m sensitive to is there’s a quarter-percent sales tax on the ballot and we’re giving pay raises,” he said. “I don’t want the public to think we’re willy-nilly giving raises. But by the same token, you’ve got to pay people a decent wage.”

Mark Munroe, board chairman and head of the county Republican Party, said at the meeting there were 16 employees at the board in 1991, but it has “trimmed the staff” to 12.

Overall, the pay raises would cost $17,023 in additional payroll spending.

The board’s nine clerks’ annual base-pay salary was to go from $40,433 to $41,646, retroactive to Jan. 1. The annual salary of Chris Rakocy, the board’s information technology manager, was to increase from $57,270 to $58,988.

Kale-Pesta and Deputy Director Thomas McCabe are being paid $73,143. Their new annual salaries were to be $75,337.

But there were issues that later unraveled the plan and led to Munroe and Betras to say the raises wouldn’t be granted.

“It’s not a raise; it’s a cost-of-living increase,” Kale-Pesta said. “Why shouldn’t I ask for a little 3 percent? I didn’t think it was out of line. I don’t see 3 percent as a raise. I consider 10 percent a raise. If the board [of elections] wants to renege on it, it’s their choice. It’s fine with me. I’m happy with my salary.”

Kale-Pesta told the board that there was no issue about the raises with the commissioners, which approved the department’s budget. It turns out the commissioners strongly oppose any raises for county employees as they try to convince the public to support the two tax proposals on the May ballot.

Commissioner David Ditzler said he and fellow commissioners, Carol Rimedio-Righetti and Anthony Traficanti, didn’t OK pay raises for elections board employees when it approved the department’s budget.

“We’re in a deficit situation,” said Ditzler during a telephone interview, with Rimedio-Righetti, who used to work at the board of elections, yelling in the background in agreement. “We’re requesting everyone to not give any wage increases. There was no discussion with board officials about a raise. We’re going to look into this. We’re absolutely not in favor of the board of elections giving raises.”

Kale-Pesta later said the commissioners don’t run her department, the board members do and the board doesn’t need the permission of the commissioners to give raises.

“The 3 percent is not a big expense,” she said. “Everyone in the county got it.”

But Munroe said after hearing from the commissioners, “I don’t see how we can go forward” with the raises, and added: “This is kind of embarrassing.”

Betras said, “Had I known all of this I wouldn’t have voted to give the raise. I don’t want to overpay them or underpay them.”

While board employees didn’t get pay raises for the seven years prior to 2012, this was to be their third base-pay salary increase in less than 14 months.

Board employees received 3 percent salary increases on Dec. 1, 2012.

On Jan. 14, 2013, all board employees received an 11.2 percent raise to offset the board director’s agreeing that the county would no longer pick up the workers’ 10 percent portion of their state retirement contribution, said Alex Mangie, the board’s fiscal officer. The reason it was 11.2 percent and not 10 percent had to do with the withholding expense, he said.

“If employees received a 10 percent raise to offset the 10 percent pickup, their net take home pay would have been less than it was before the switch due to the higher withholding [tax] rates,” Mangie wrote in an email. “The payroll department ran the calculations and ultimately 11.2 percent was what we arrived at to keep the take home pay equal to what it was before the switch.”

That meant that the latest 3 percent raise would have been about $150 more with the higher salary than if the county still paid the employee pension contribution.

Another problem that emerged was a printout that Kale-Pesta gave to her board members of salaries of election directors and deputy directors from comparable counties showing Mahoning County with the second lowest salaries. It turns out the information, which Kale-Pesta said was compiled by the Ohio secretary of state’s office, was from 2012 and inaccurate.

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