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Thursday, December 03, 2015

NorCo Non-Union Workers Poised to Get 4.5% Raise

About 15 non-union workers attended the Budget Hearing.
At yesterday's final Budget hearing late yesterday afternoon, NorCo Council President Peg Ferraro broke ranks with Republicans and sided with all four Council Democrats to support a Ken Kraft inspired budget amendment that will grant all Northampton County non-union workers a 4.5% wage hike next year. But before you decide to celebrate, you better wait and see what happens during tonight's Council meeting. That's when the 2016 Budget is scheduled for adoption. And even if Council does adopt an amended budget that includes these payhikes, Executive John Brown could easily decide to veto the spending plan.

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.

Cathy Kromer
Cathy Kromer, a non-union program specialist in Mental Health, told Council she's in her "dream job." She presented Council members with copies of her pay stubs in 2010 and 2015. Her bi-weekly take home pay has gone up just $100 in the past five years.

"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.

"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."
Allen Payhike in Trouble

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.

Gypsy Moth

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.


Anonymous said...

2,200 so called workers. probably 200 too many. deny the pay raises, eliminate positions. you work for the citizens not the cry babys

Anonymous said...

Hopefully council remembers that non-union employees did not receive any pay raise this year yet costs of health insurance increased as well as unreimbursed medical expenses increased substantially. Council should remember as well that we may be paid more due to our Bachelor and Master degrees, and have student loans like everyone else and cost of living increases. There should be no study and a delay in this. If a study is done, the whole county needs to be looked at and each job individually. Not just for non-union employees.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not going anywhere."


Anonymous said...


Cry me a river. Not happy? Go somewhere else so we can eliminate your job. 1 down, 199 to go. See how easy this is.

Anonymous said...

Kathy Kromer has her dream job....yes, yes she does. 156 reasons to be grateful....that is 26 steady paychecks per year, for 6 years straight, that have increased, while she continues to receive a benefit package on top of that , not seen in any Human Service job outside of goldbrick government taxpayer funded and civil service protected work.

Kathy, how many of your counterparts are working for NHS at half that pay, no steady paycheck and no benefits?

Anonymous said...

I think the public needs to know that all of the FLOOR RN's and Social Service Coordinators at Gracedale haven't seen a pay raise in almost 6 years! Yet everyone around them keep getting fatter pockets. That they have been working with a contract dated 2009 and expired 2010 because the County would not sit down with them. That most of them are living paycheck to paycheck. They are having trouble hiring nurses because the pay rate is laughable. These are the people that go to work everyday and take care or YOUR loved ones. And are now told because of poor staffing they will be required to do mandatory overtime. This is how the County treats the professionals at Gracedale Nursing Home. This is appalling and it needs to be addressed. I think we need to stop filling the pockets of the people that sit behind their desks and do NOTHING and start filling the pockets of the hard working!

Anonymous said...


KK is a product of the give me/you owe me generation. pitiful

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:36, it is sad what was done to Gracedale employees. You had the Stoffa dump Gracedale years where he could care less about you folks and now you have Brown.

Anonymous said...

Let's hope that either Geissinger or Vaughn has the guts to rescind the Cathy Allen raise. Geissinger is a puppet of Brown, but maybe Vaughn will grow a pair and vote to cut it. It is a HORRIBLE MESSAGE to reward a travel expense cheat and tax cheat with a permanent raise she doesn't deserve.

Anonymous said...

10:36 That's why Ron Angle was right and we need to unload Gracedale to an owner who can operate it properly and take care of those folks as well as pay the staff what they deserve. I know you can get a higher paying job at another privately owned nursing home but its also about the people you have taken care of for years. Its time we get rid of this tax payer owned financial titanic and get the place in a private owner and those people who work there wages they deserve and NOT on the tax payer.

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:36, You justify treating Cathy like shit bc you are treated like shit. First, and most likely, you probably deserve to be treated like shit and probably don't last long in any one job. Second, when you argue that public sector employees should be treated as the lowest of the low of you are treated, you are just opening the door for private sector employers to dump on you even more. It's a foolish argument.

Anonymous said...

Stay focused. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, "it's Gracedale, stupid." Gracedale is why we can't have nice things - like raises and sturdy bridges. Broken Clock Brown has it operating as well as at any time in county history. Its staff and management should be saluted. Still, it bleeds millions of dollars each year, with increasing losses as far as the eye can see. If you're not addressing the elephant in the room (i.e. Gracedale), you're not engaging in a serious fiscal discussion regarding the county's future.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Let's hope that either Geissinger or Vaughn has the guts to rescind the Cathy Allen raise. Geissinger is a puppet of Brown, but maybe Vaughn will grow a pair and vote to cut it. It is a HORRIBLE MESSAGE to reward a travel expense cheat and tax cheat with a permanent raise she doesn't deserve."

Din't hold your breath. But I'm sure they both would vote against the 4.5% payhike.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I find it amusing that one reader likes to blame all the county's fiscal woes on Gracedale. That's someone that no one has ever really done. But this reader seems to think all we need to do is dump it. But this person won't identify himself or herself and is a paper tiger with no real courage and real willingness to defend a position. Let's stick to the topic. Non union workers who need payraises.

Anonymous said...

Who's talking about dumping Gracedale? That's the false rhetoric that was used against Stoffa and Angle - who have been proven right. Gracedale should be privatized for all the reasons Bernie repeated and repeated prior to the referendum. All county money is green and there's a limited amount of it. All things fiscal are related. Money doesn't grow on trees. Pay should be based upon what the market will bear. You quoted an employee saying she'll never leave. Things can't be too bad if one is never going to leave.

Anonymous said...

It only costs too much to do a pay study because when you do a pay study you find out that the workers ARE underpaid and it will cost to much to FIX the inequity.

Government always talks about running more like a business but then they only pick and choose the parts of the business that they feel are good for them.

All employers should treat their employees as assets and take care of them appropriately.

For all of those commenting that think all government jobs are cushy with great benefits I will only say that your perception is not necessarily reality.

Anonymous said...

If Brown were running the county like a business, he would have kept the courts and sold off everyhting else...that is what he should do

Anonymous said...

Spot on.

Anonymous said...

"unload Gracedale to an owner who can operate it properly and take care of those folks as well as pay the staff what they deserve. I know you can get a higher paying job at another"

Another teabagger clown. It was truly sad about the mis-information the Stoffa/Angle Admisntration used against Gracedale as well as the then county council who saw a quick payday.

The truth is you would be disgusted by most nursing homes. They are not beautiful places to be in. They may have a fancy façade and a nice reception area but go to the wards and you would be saddened. Old people drugged up and pushing their buzzers only to wait and wait. They have no other option, where can they go? Many have no family or no that care. Unlike you yahoo, they can't just get up and shop for another "home", like a grocery store. Most are put there by hospital staff who have an in or search for an open bed. The staff are mainly part-time and always leaving. No one gets to know the residents.

Gracedale made millions and could have made money even after the rate change. You claim it is running better now than in history. How can you prove that, because someone says it does. Before 2005 it was running great. The saddest part of the dump Gracedale movement was the after effects that created morons like you and the other teabaggers using ginned up half-truths and planted consultants to make your case.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:31, please go back to your cabin in West Virginia. Civilization will not miss you.

Anonymous said...

Oh please! Boohoo. Please to the Republican members of county council, this is why we elected you. Hopefully the newly elected republicans are in attendance to watch. Stop caving in to these gubermint goldbrickers. They brag about how long they work there, yet complain at every opportunity. This woman sounds like a constant whiner. You make more than you would in the private sector by a mile.

A 4.5 increase is obscene. Hopefully the real conservative members of county council will squash this nonsense. John Brown is just another RINO, we can't trust him so we are all relying on you.

Tell these moaners to grow up and live in the real world.

Anonymous said...

That's BS. I work in both public and private sector. I can tell you I get a hell of a lot more in private sector w better health and fringe benefits.

Anonymous said...

For those who can't even spell Cathy's name correctly need to get the fact straight before you open your mouth. Or be the keyboard warrior. I have known Cathy Kromer for years. She is the most brave, fair, kind and hard working person I ever met. She goes above and beyond of her calling putting others needs before hers. She is the voice of voiceless. She is ungrateful? You are stupidly mistaken. She is standing up for what is RIGHT. She is a whiner? You sounds a lot more like a whiner to me. What are you doing other than bashing someone who bravely standing up for her and other under-pay workers? She has not only standing up for us mental health workers, she is an advocate for those who suffers from mental illnesses. Cathy is an amazing woman who understands the problem and fighting to make it right. I am extremely proud of her and support her 100%.

Anonymous said...

Cathy Kromer is a stand-up woman who has the strongest of moral compasses! She is standing up for hard-working, underpaid people who take care of the marginalized of our society. Cathy is a strong advocate for mental health and devotes her life to making a difference in the lives of people who suffer gravely. To criticize her is lower than low.

Anonymous said...

For anyone who says Cathy Kromer doesn't deserve a raise they should work a day in her shoes. She goes above and beyond her job duties just to make sure that individuals with persistent menta health issues get the services they need. She is not only compassionate but very dedicated to her work. She and the other info isles who haven't gotten a raise should have gotten this a long time ago. She has worked hard to get where she is today.