Bedford OKs longevity pay increase

BEDFORD — A request for longevity pay increases for Bedford County Children and Youth Services staff prompted more discussion over county employees’ salaries on Tuesday.

The Bedford County commissioners and treasurer unanimously approved longevity pay increases of 96 cents per hour for various CYS staff, who have been working for the department for years, as recommended by the department’s administrator Lisa Cairo.

Clarissa Harman, Bobbi Howsare, Peggy Miller, Andrew Ferguson, Valene Kinsey and Linda Suter were all approved for the 96-cent pay increases. The commissioners also approved a pay increase of 54 cents per hour for Joseph Hershberger. All the longevity pay increases for the CYS staff would begin March 4.

While the salary board approved the pay increases, Cairo noted low pay for CYS staff has been an issue for years and noted her staff works around the clock to address difficult home and family situations such as drug abuse and child neglect.

“The low salaries did not just occur with this board of commissioners. It has been an ongoing issue for decades,” Cairo said. “And now that we have a board of commissioners that are attempting to increase the salaries, it still is not good enough because it’s either not happening fast enough or at the increase that employees think they are worth.”

During the motion to approve the pay increases, Treasurer Melissa Cottle, a member of the salary board, asked the commissioners to consider a longevity policy of five-year increments for other nonunion county employees.

“There are other nonunion people in this courthouse. I’m trying to stand up for the other employees of our courthouse that are not covered under a longevity policy,” Cottle said, adding CYS and union contracts have a longevity policy.

Commissioner Josh Lang said the board is currently working on a longevity policy draft that would be part of department head manuals.

To support her advocacy for longevity pay increases, Cairo cited low pay and high turnover rates for CYS staff, referring to the auditor general’s 2017 report on the “broken” child welfare system. She said she made a salary of $19,956 when she started as a caseworker with a bachelor’s degree in 2002.

According to Cairo, the starting salary in 2014 was $21,546 for a caseworker with a bachelor’s degree. Now, five years later, the starting salary is $26,668.

“We have to start somewhere,” Cairo said of salary increases. She added she planned and requested for staff salary increases prior to the finalization of the county’s budget.

Of the CYS department’s $4.5 million budget, Cairo said the county funds about 9 percent of it while the rest is supported by federal and state quarterly advancements. As of right now, the CYS office is $500,000 under budget, according to Cairo.

After the approval for CYS staff pay increases, a meeting attendee and county employee inquired about the commissioners’ ability to approve increases for one department and not others.

Amy Clark, a real estate secretary for the sheriff’s office, said she has worked for the county for five years, with three years spent in the recorder of deeds office at a pay rate of $11.49 an hour. When she moved to the sheriff’s office, she said she had a starting salary of $9.08 as a union employee. Clark said she now makes $9.55 after more than a year with the department.

“Whenever I hit my five years, am I going to get a longevity (raise)?” Clark asked.

Her inquiry followed Sheriff Charwin Reichelderfer’s earlier request for staff wage increases at a commissioner meeting a couple of weeks ago. Reichelderfer asked to reconsider a deal previously made in collective bargaining, which goes against the state constitution as noted by public sector labor attorney Christopher Gabriel in a letter to the commissioners.

In response to Clark, Lang said Tuesday the board can’t do anything for union members until it’s time to negotiate with their collective bargaining units.

Commissioner Barry Dallara said the commissioners cannot select individual union employees to negotiate pay with but rather have to negotiate contracts with collective bargaining units.

Dallara said the commissioners would have to work with departments to implement longevity increases for nonunion employees. He added the commissioners want to take care of county employees across the board but are restricted by union contracts.

When asked about ways of generating revenue to address salary issues, Lang said the board is always looking for new revenue sources and ways to control spending. Dallara added it might eventually come to a tax increase if need be, but that the commissioners prefer to find savings for the county first.

While many county employees are represented by unions, the rest of the nonunion employees do not have a longevity policy or provision, Dallara said.

For Children and Youth Services, state officials have noted the critical state of the child welfare system partially because of the high turnover rates of staff, he added, and began offering incentives such as longevity pay increases to retain CYS staff.

Cairo went to the commissioners to ask to incentivize staff with longevity pay increases and had state and county approval for the CYS budget, according to Dallara. Every Pennsylvanian county implements longevity raises as incentives to keep CYS staff in place, he added.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners approved the promotion of caseworker Briana Beach with an annual salary increase from $27,750 to $29,128.

They also approved the hiring of Janet Krepps as a supervised independent living caseworker with an annual salary of $28,668. Deb Rose was approved as the new Veteran Affairs director with an annual salary of $32,592.

Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7457.