High overtime driven by low entry-level pay, county officials sayTweet
By jUSTIN WIER
Mahoning County spends more than a quarter of its budget – $76.5 million of about $280 million in 2017 – on wages.
That doesn’t count the $62.1 million that went toward health insurance, pensions and other employee-related expenses last year.
About $2 million went toward overtime, which some county officials tied to high turnover driven by low entry-level pay rates in their departments.
The highest-paid employees are not the county commissioners or their executive director.
Of the 2,018 people who received paychecks from the county last year, 68 made more than the commissioners and 41 made more than Executive Director Audrey Tillis.
The highest-paid employee is county Engineer Pat Ginnetti. He received $144,735.16 last year. Of that sum, Ginnetti receives $36,000 for also serving as the county’s sanitary engineer. The commissioners combined the positions because it would cost significantly more than $3,000 a month to employ a separate sanitary engineer. It also requires one benefits package instead of two.
Rounding out the county’s top earners in 2017 are other supervisors, including Prosecutor Paul J. Gains at $126,842; Bill Whitacre, superintendent of the Board of Developmental Disabilities, at $120,906; Randall Muth, executive director of Children Services, at $118,662; Robert Bush, director of Job & Family Services at $114,828; and Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Board, at $114,800.
The median employee earned $38,411 in 2017, a bit below the countywide median household income of $41,872.
The county spent about $2 million in overtime in 2017.
Nearly half of that, $879,718, went to 245 employees in the sheriff’s office. The average sheriff’s employee received $3,590.69 in overtime.
Sheriff Jerry Greene said the high overtime number is the result of his struggle to hire and retain employees given the low starting pay.
“The complete meat-and- potatoes of it is really from our jail division, and it’s to cover shifts because we are having trouble hiring,” Greene said. “We’re not understaffed, but we have to work the overtime.”
A deputy sheriff starts at nearly $14 per hour. Greene said salaries in Summit County begin at $21 per hour and jump to $28 per hour after one year.
“We’ve just been getting beaten up,” he said.
That’s resulted in employees working extra shifts to cover when others go on vacation or take sick time.
Despite the overtime, Greene said the office remains under budget.
The county engineer and sanitary engineer workers also received a significant amount of overtime pay with $117,478 and $589,296, respectively. The engineer’s 93 employees received $1,263 on average, and the sanitary engineer’s 94 employees received an average of $6,269.
On the sanitary engineer’s side of things, Ginnetti said they’ve had a high number of call outs to respond to failures in the county’s aging waste-treatment system, which dates back to 1922.
In May, The Vindicator reported four emergency projects thus far in 2018 have cost the county $2 million. Several of those resulted from the failure of decades-old concrete pipes.
Ginnetti said the department also has had to cover for employees who took time off for personal reasons.
On the county engineer side, overtime was caused by rain, snow and ice.
“Our overtime is gauged basically by the weather,” Ginnetti said.
A perhaps less-expected entry in the departments with the highest average overtime is the dog warden office. Dog warden employees averaged $2,836 in overtime, but nearly half of that went to one person.
“The lion’s share of that overtime went to the veterinary technician,” said Dog Warden Dianne Fry. “He was on call basically 24/7.”
That is Richard Tunison, who earned $58,092 last year, $17,106 of that in overtime.
Fry described a scenario in her office that mirrors the situation at the sheriff’s office.
She said her office saw a lot of turnover in 2017, which is evidenced by the 14 people who received paychecks in eight positions.
“If you look at their wages, their hourly wages are not much at all, so it’s hard to keep good people,” Fry said.
Employees begin at $13.49 per hour.
Fry said when you add the overtime up, it doesn’t support hiring another person.
The coroner’s office, which has also experienced high turnover with its investigators who begin at $13 per hour, also received about $1,639 in overtime per employee.
As in the country as a whole, county wages differ depending on an employee’s race and gender.
While the median male employee makes $45,568, the median female employee makes about $10,000 less at $35,127.
This does not necessarily mean the county discriminates against women. It reflects a nationwide trend, and part of it is explained by the prevalence of men in the county’s top-paying positions.
Of the 12 employees whose salaries exceed $100,000, only two are female.
The top 20 percent of county earners are 71.3 percent male, while the bottom 80 percent are 63.6 percent female.
The disparity even exists among the commissioners.
Commissioners David Ditzler and Anthony Traficanti both earned about $84,000 in 2017, and Carol Rimedio-Righetti earned $76,951.
Rimedio-Righetti said the difference resulted from a salary increase passed by the state Legislature. It only applied to officials elected after its passage. She will see her salary increase if she is re-elected this fall.
Rimedio-Righetti pointed to the countywide pay study as an effort to address differences in pay.
It doesn’t mean people will immediately get a raise, Rimedio-Righetti said, because the money’s not there, but it helps identify problem areas.
The county’s budget has been subject to cuts in state funding and a reticence to impose levies on county residents. The state’s recent elimination of a statewide tax on Medicaid managed-care organizations cost the county $4.5 million in annual general-fund revenue.
Rimedio-Righetti described a hypothetical scenario where a male in one county office makes $15,000 more than a female in another county office performing similar work.
“That is totally wrong,” she said.
She said sometimes people attempt to justify disparities by claiming, “That’s the way it was, so that’s the way it is.”
“That’s not the way it is,” she said. “It could be the way it was, but we should move to change that.”
The county’s disparity across racial lines is less pronounced than it is in the country as a whole.
The median white employee makes 106 percent of the median employees’ income, the median Hispanic employee makes 89.3 percent and the median black employee makes 80.8 percent.
It breaks down so the median white employee makes $40,981, the median Hispanic employee makes $34,288, and the median black employee makes $31,044.
Nationwide, the median white worker also makes 106 percent of the national median income, but the median Hispanic earns 81.4 percent of that, and the median black employee earns only 66.9 percent.