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Friday, December 04, 2015

Northampton County Gives NonUnion Workers a 4.5% Christmas Present

PJ Steve Baratta started discussion
about nonunion workers
Northampton County has given its non-union workers and taxpayers an early Christmas present. Its $360 million spending plan for 2016, adopted by a 7-2 vote at its December 3, 2015 meeting, gives non-union workers a 4.5% wage hike. Taxpayers have also been spared a tax increase. This is largely the work of several county officials who managed to hit the right chords.This is how it happened.

It all started with President Judge Steve Baratta. At the first budget hearing, it is Baratta who told Council about the disparities between nonunion supervisors and the union employees whom they supervise. He persuaded Executive John Brown to go along with a 4.5% increase for non-union judicial employees.

Next, DA John Morganelli picked up the banner for remaining nonunion workers who make up about 25% of the County's 2,200-person workforce. He told Council that these employees deserve recognition, too, and warned that assistant District Attorneys who work under him could easily decide to go union and shackle the County with a 12th union. He stressed the need for parity.

Though a union business agent, Ken
Kraft championed cause of nonunion workers
After considering these arguments, Bethlehem's representative on Council, Ken Kraft, decided to seek a budget amendment giving all non-union workers a 4.5% payraise, even though it would cost the county $438,492 in salary costs alone. Kraft was helped when about 15 non-union workers appeared at the final budget hearing to describe their situation. Cathy Kromer, a program specialist in Mental Health, provided each Council member with her pay stubs from 2010 and 2015. In all that time, her bi-weekly take home pay has gone up only $100. She told Council that inequities in Northampton County's salary structure have caused "distrust, divides, animosity and friction." She added that there have been no step increases over the past five years, and that the people she supervises are paid more than she.

After listening to Kromer, Council President Peg Ferraro broke ranks and sided with Democrats to support a Budget Amendment awarding a 4.5% wage hike to non-union workers. John Brown protested that this is too costly, but Ferraro retorted that Brown needs to do a pay study.

Brown agreed to fund payhike
Though there was majority support for a payhike, there was a problem. Kraft proposed taking this money from the general fund, but Hayden Phillips and Brown protested that is contrary to the Home Rule Charter. Though he originally sided with Kraft, Solicitor Phil Lauer did a complete about face just three hours before Council was scheduled to convene. "I do not believe that Council can unilaterally access funds outside of the Executive's estimated revenues without the Executive's consent," he advised. "The addition of expenditures can be accomplished by reducing other expenditures, or by reaching an understanding with the Executive regarding an increase in revenue."

Lauer's opinion would kill the payraise unless Executive John Brown could be persuaded to agree to the change.

About thirty minutes before the meeting, Ken Kraft was spotted walking into Brown's office. He left just minutes before the meeting. He said nothing, but smiled and gave a thumbs' up.

Once the meeting was under way, Brown got up and agreed that Council could fund the payraise from the general fund. After that, the payraise and final budget were quickly adopted.

It's a no tax hike budget. For the average Northampton County home, which is assessed at $58,800, it means a $693.84 County tax bill, the same as last year. McClure, Glenn Geissinger and Phillips opposed the millage rate ordinance.

Hayden Phillips had proposed a half mill tax cut, to be funded by taking nearly $4 million set aside by Brown for capital improvements like the purchase of the centralized human services building. But aside from Seth Vaughn, he was unable to attract any support.

Phillips also went through a review of controversial payraises that Executive John Brown had granted to 13 different employees without Council approval. All were approved but one. That was a $8,143 raise that Brown gave to Deputy Administrator Cathy Allen. Peg Ferraro attempted to revisit the raise because Council members Glenn Geissinger and Seth Vaughn had been absent from the final budget hearing. But her motion died for lack of a second.

Glenn Geissinger and Mat Benol participated in Council's most important meeting of the year, a meeting to adopt the budget, by phone. Geissinger and Seth Vaughn were absent from the final budget hearing, the day before adoption of the budget.

Though this budget is good news to taxpayers and nonunion workers, it was unwelcome to Plainfield Township open space advocate Don Moore. He pointed out that his community and Moore Township are unable to preserve farmland becauase there is no county contribution scheduled this year. He added that townships are being shortchanged on matching funds. Brown has insisted there is enough farmland money from previous budgets to handle all preservation applications in 2016.


Anonymous said...

Our conservative county councilmen let us down again. So much for fiscal responsibility. Might as well vote for the Democrats.
At least they are honest about their tax and spend policies. These guys really lied to the people who voted for them.

Anonymous said...

what a waste. Don't come back next year with you cry baby attitudes

Anonymous said...

It was a victory for all non-Union staff. Let's not forget what happened in 2015 with the health insurance increase as well as zero raise. The 4.5 percent really equals out to a 2.25 percent increase for past two years and workers are still and a net loss because of the huge increase in co insurance.
@7:17 in the coming months when your republican run Congress get rid of the Cadillac tax on health care I am sure then you will support Brown hanging the insurance back to what it was in 2014!

Anonymous said...

There will be not Cadillac tax. That was a smoke screen to get everyone worried. The county's plan does not fall into that category.

Anonymous said...

eliminate 200 employees and then one might consider another pay raise. The union pukes are at this very minute plotting for another raise in 2017

Anonymous said...

At least Cathy Allen's ridiculous $8K raise was de-funded. Don't be surprised if Brown sticks his finger in council's eye by transferring money from another line item to continue her current level of pay.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That does not trouble me greatly. Although I have no regard for Allen, I am very leery of interfering with an exempt employee.

Anonymous said...

How does Kenny Kraft feel about Jim Gregory getting back in the mix?

Anonymous said...

He thinks that it is as foolish as it sounds

Anonymous said...

Jim Gregory does not even own property in NORCO. His legal residence is in state prison where we all hop that you find comfortable when you get there

Anonymous said...

Your silence on the Islamic Terrorist Attack in San Bernardino, California, is deafening, BO.

Anonymous said...

Jim Gregory is political royalty in Bethlehem. When he returns from his exile, he will determine his next move politically. He may opt out and become a radio host with his own blog on local and national issue.
He can go for any office he chooses. Whatever he runs for he will be considered a favorite. He will have the backing of many people/ he will also have the Unity-Pac to back him up. He could have come home sooner but he stuck to his principles and refused to admit to something he didn't believe. He choose confinement over freedom, a testament to his character.

If he feels John Brown has not lived up to his promises, Mr. Gregory may well run for county executive and would easily win in 20917.

Anonymous said...

4:42. People always flock to support a woman beater and stalker with a gambling problem

Sands Poker Dealer said...

Jim Gregory has never been a gambler, he's a poker player there's a huge difference which was touched upon in a Robert Redford movie where the protagonist goes to Cuba.

I've seen Jim lay down the second nut flush on multiple occasions and be spot on, he's a gifted hold me player and will destroy the 2-5 NL games at sands when released. Expect to see him in the 10-25 NL game on Tuesday when his bankroll has grown sufficiently.

Anonymous said...

Felons are banned from PA casinos

Anonymous said...

Thank you council, Bernie, Mr. Kraft and Mr. Parsons, Cathy Kromer and Joe J., and all those who attended the meeting. Non-Union staff have been passed over for years.

Anonymous said...

Since I was forced to join the union I am now paid less than a non union employee one pay grade lower than I am. I'm happy you got a raise, but don't think it's been great for most unions.