|About 15 non-union workers attended the Budget Hearing.|
Brown told Council yesterday that he preferred giving non-union workers a 2 /1/2 % payhike, although he previously assured President Judge Steve Baratta that would throw up no roadblocks in the court's quest to raise the salaries of its non-union employees by 4.5% District Attorney John Morganelli, at the first Budget hearing, told Council that any payraise for non-union workers should be across-the-board. Controller Steve Barron echoed Morganelli yesterday, "Further dividing the workforce is not the right path," he said during courtesy of the floor, as about 15 non-union workers burst into applause.
Non-union workers make up about 25% of Northampton County's 2,200-person workforce. The rest belong to one of 11 different unions.
"I'm not going anywhere," she told Council adding that the inequities in Northampton County's salary structure have caused "distrust, divides, animosity and friction." She noted that there have been no step increases over the past five years, and that the people she supervises are paid more than she.
Ken Kraft, who incidentally is a union business agent, argued first for a five percent increase. "They are supervising people who make more money than they do," he reasoned. But Hayden Phillips questioned whether the payhike is legally permissible. He noted that Kraft is taking the money from the general fund, and that essentially is a prediction that there will be more revenue that Brown estimated in his budget.
Under Northampton County's Home Rule Charter, Council has no authority to modify estimates of revenue prepared by the Executive. Brown and even Budget Administrator Doran Hamann seized on that argument, too. But Council Solicitor advised that Kraft's amendment had nothing to do with Brown's revenue projections. He is simply increasing expenditures, which he can do so long as it is no grater than the estimated total sum of funds available.
Scott Parsons said that a percentage wage hike would favor employees who already make large sums of money, while being peanuts to those on the bottom rungs. He preferred a $2,200 across-the-board allotment to each non-union worker, based on the $436,592 that a 4.5% wage hike will cost the County. But his idea went nowhere.
Peg Ferraro told Brown, "I think we need a pay study or we're going to be in the same mess next year." Brown agreed there is compression, which is a fancy way of saying there are inequities between non-union and union workers. But he told Ferraro that a pay study would cost too much.
The County's 1991 Barstan study cost $40,000, and its 2008 Hay study cost $115,000.
Though Kraft's five percent payhike quickly failed, his 4.5% payhike was just as quickly adopted. Peg Ferraro joined the four Democrats in voting for the increase.Phillips and Mat Benol, who was participating by phone, voted No. Glenn Geissinger and Seth Vaughn were absent from the second most important meeting of the year, aside from the budget adoption itself.
Meeting Punctuated by Confusion
With two members participating by phone, and another two absent altogether, it was a meeting punctuated by confusion. Mat Benol, vacationing in Florida, interrupted repeatedly for explanations. "What does a No vote mean," is a question he asked at least three times when Council was voting on payraises that Executive Brown doled out last year without Council approval. But at least he was there, if only by phone. Considering that Council is voting on a $360 million budget tonight, the absences of Glenn Geissinger and Seth Vaughn are nothing short of a slap across the face of taxpayers, as well as their Council colleagues.
Hayden Phillips Tax Cut Proposal Goes Nowhere
In addition to the payraise, Hayden Phillips proposed cutting taxes next year by a half mill by removing nearly $4 million set aside for the eventual purchase of the centralized human services building on Emrick Avenue. The only person willing to go along with this tax cut was Lamont McClure, who has always insisted that the County has much more money than it says it has. The remaining Democrats, along with Peg Ferraro and Benol, voted against the tax cut.
Bob Werner, one of those opposed too the tax cut, pointed to the irony of the very persons who imposed a one mill tax hike last year, now seeking to return half of it.
"On the plus side, it plays well politically.Allen Payhike in Trouble
"However, the ramifications on the negative side are many. We agreed upon plans to use that revenue for short and long-term capital projects including Gracedale's parking lot, a much needed forensic center, our prison, infrastructure repairs, especially bridges, and the big one, purchasing the Human Services Building."
Last year, Brown awarded Deputy Administrator Cathy Allen two pay hikes. One of these was temporary, and he told Council he ended it. But there was still another $8,143 raise that Allen received with no authority from Council.Council Solicitor Phil Lauer had ruled that Allen's raise, along with 12 others, was illegal. Brown still bristles at that characterization, but he agreed that Council should have to final say on these raises as part of next year's budget.
Council demonstrated no curiosity about these other raises. With the exception of McClure's characteristic No vote, they all but Cathy Allen's raise were approved.
Brown argued that she has "more than shown a return for the work she's doing and continues to do today." But this is the same Cathy Allen, along with Brown, who illegally claimed expenses to which they were not entitled. This is the same Cathy Allen who refused to produce public works staff at a meeting about bridges and then refused to answer Council questions. This is the same Cathy Allen who interjected herself into personnel matters at the jail, and who wanted to discipline workers for infractions a second time. This is the same Cathy Allen whose home is in foreclosure and who is facing three tax liens.
Council refused to endorse her raise last night in a four to three vote. Werner, Benol, Kraft and McClure voted against the payhike continuing in 2016, while Phillips, Ferraro and Parsons supported it.
It is unclear whether Benol knew what he was doing when he cast his vote because he kept asking what a No vote means. But Parsons bolted from Democrats and went along with it.
"She could use the money," he joked.
Though Allen's payhike next year is in trouble, Council will have a chance to give it to her tonight, when Republicans Glenn Geissinger and Seth Vaughn will presumably be present.
Open Space Tweaks
During courtesy of the floor, Plainfield Township residents Terry Kleintop and Don Moore both took Brown to task for failing to budget any money for farmland preservation in the 2016 budget. Noting that the County preserved 1,200 acres of farmland in 2015, Kleintop insisted there is a demand for this program. Don Moore complained that the plan is "being gutted" and that the County will run out of money this year. He seemed especially upset that Plainfield Township is being denied matching money from the County.
Both Kleintop and Moore left before Parsons proposed some changes to the open space program. He proposed increasing the budget for environmentally sensitive land to $400,000, with the money coming from table games revenue. Brown indicated this was acceptable to him and agreed that some money should be available if a decent project appears.
Parsons admitted he is confused by the farmland preservation program every time he speaks to someone about it, but it is his understanding that the County has budgeted enough money in previous years to fund every farm in the pipeline. He added that it takes about 20 months to settle on an agricultural conservation easement, so there should be no need to budget additional monies for any applications filed this year.
He and Brown both stated that their goal is to spend $1.6 million every year on farmland acquisition.
Council also voted unanimously to spend $100,000 more than planned on gypsy moth spraying next year, as the County recently learned that its coverage area has doubled.
Council has three options tonight. First, it can do nothing, in which case John Brown's 2016 Budget will be adopted as proposed. Second, it can vote down his budget, in which case his spending plan for next year will automatically go into effect. Finally, it can amend the budget and then approve the budget as amended. That is the most likely outcome tonight.