By Justin Wier
The results of a long-awaited compensation study looking at the salaries of Mahoning County employees identifies lower-than-average starting salaries that some officials said could make hiring difficult.
The study compares the county’s compensation with that of its peers performing similar work in governments of counties and cities of comparable size.
Commissioners hired Evergreen Solutions LLC of Tallahassee, Fla., to perform the $65,000 study in June 2016.
The study included 23 departments and 818, or about 45 percent, of the county’s full- and part-time employees.
Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said the report can’t take into account things such as cyclical changes and the failure to pass a sales tax, but it provides a nice guideline.
“It does not mean everybody’s getting a raise,” Traficanti said. “It was not done to do that. We use it as a guide to see where we are in Mahoning County. ... You have to have some semblance of what the wages are in the county.”
In June 2006, the county commissioners hired Archer Co. LLC of Westerville for $32,500 to perform a similar study.
Starting in August 2007, the commissioners awarded pay increases to department heads, supervisors and 911 emergency dispatchers, saying they were justified by using the Archer study.
The commissioners adopted the study for the 11 departments within their office.
It recommends a new pay plan that has defined ranks for exempt and nonexempt employees across the county.
Other departments, including the auditor’s, coroner’s and sheriff’s offices, will have to decide individually whether to adopt the study’s recommendations.
Karen U’Halie, the county’s human resources director who led the project, said the study creates equity both between the county and other counties and within the county itself.
One aspect of the study looked at minimum, midpoint and maximum salaries for Mahoning County employees and compared them with average salaries in comparable counties.
When removing outliers and those with a low number of responses, it shows those at the maximum and midpoint earn more or less average salaries, but those earning minimum salaries – who often would be new employees – lag about 5.5 percent behind market averages.
Looking at average salaries overall and removing outliers, the county’s positions as a whole are 0.6 percent above the market average.
“[The results] suggest a pay structure that becomes more competitive as employees progress through their respective [pay] grades,” the report states.
The report shows that coroner’s investigators making minimum salaries – they begin at $27,508 – earn 34.3 percent below the market average. However, once they reach the midpoint, they earn 22.4 above the market average, and at the maximum, they are 39.9 percent above the market average.
Similarly, Mahoning County deputy sheriffs begin at $29,785. The study states that, on average, entry-level deputies make 29.7 percent below the market average.
A 2014 analysis by The Vindicator identified the sheriff’s office as one of the county departments with the highest turnover.
Sheriff Jerry Greene has told The Vindicator his office struggles to recruit and retain new deputies.
A proposed pay plan for sheriff’s employees in the report suggests a minimum salary of $33,138.
“His deputies are underpaid – grossly underpaid,” Traficanti said. “That’s something we’ve known about, but this is all driven by the budget.”
Another position highlighted in The Vindicator’s 2014 analysis was the juvenile court’s program directors.
Program directors making the minimum salaries earn 52.4 percent less than the market average, according to the report.
“We don’t want to lose people; we want to keep who we have here,” Traficanti said. “But sometimes there’s only so many resources to go around.”