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Salary board balks at DA request

Weeks seeks more pay for victim witness coordinator

HOLLIDAYSBURG — In trying to hire a victim witness coordinator, Blair County District Attorney Pete Weeks said he has interviewed 20 candidates and offered the post to three.

But all three declined, so the district attorney proposed to his fellow salary board members Wednesday that the job’s pay be restored to $50,000 annually.

Since the salary board said no in a 3 to 2 vote, the county is still offering the job with an hourly pay range equating to $37,836 to $40,863 annually.

“It’s going to continue to be a struggle to find someone,” Weeks predicted during the meeting where his arguments were rejected.

It was the county’s salary study that proposed a $10,000 to $12,000 cut in the pay for the victim witness coordinator post.

Weeks, who said he has no understanding of why the salary study vendor came up with that conclusion, also advised the salary board of a related concern.

Rebecca Lidgett, who has been filling in as victim witness coordinator since late June, is resigning as of Oct. 15. That leaves the normally four-person victim witness unit down to one relatively new staff member.

“The people in this unit perform important tasks,” Weeks told the salary board in explaining his request. “They help us move the criminal cases along, by working with the victims and the witnesses. And we need that more than ever right now because we have a significant backlog of criminal cases.”

Weeks also reminded the salary board that no real estate tax money is used to cover salary and benefits of the victim witness coordinator.

Those costs are instead covered by grants provided through the Victims of Crime Act and the Rights and Services Act.

Commissioner Amy Webster voted with Weeks in support of the higher salary, but they were outvoted by Commissioners Bruce Erb and Laura Burke and Controller A.C. Stickel.

Erb spoke of the “exhaustive work” involved in the salary study as his reason for wanting to follow its recommendations that classified county jobs and led to the assignment of associated pay grades.

“I’m not for hiring at pay levels outside the policy,” Erb said.

When Weeks asked for information as to how salary study vendor, East Coast Risk Management, came up with a lower pay level for the post, Chief Clerk Nicole Hemminger said that’s probably proprietary information.

Weeks told the salary board that from his survey of other fifth-class counties in Pennsylvania, he found that most are paying their victim/witness coordinators between $50,000 and $60,000 annually.

That didn’t sway Stickel who said he could survey the same fifth-class counties and find that their controllers are being paid more than Blair County pays.

Burke also countered that Weeks’ survey lacked information as to how those counties structure their victim witness units and the duties their employees perform.

Burke also said that since Blair County’s victim witness coordinator post is now an hourly position, the position is now eligible for overtime pay so the person hired may be able to earn a salary closer to the amount Weeks requested.

Weeks also suggested that the post warrants the higher salary based on the mix of job skills it requires.

The coordinator, he said, has to be able to work crime victims, including ones in sexual assault, child abuse and homicide cases, in addition to handling the work associated with maintaining the crime grants.

“You’re asking for a people person and an accountant wrapped up in the same body,” Weeks said. “I have not met this person yet, so it has been a struggle to hire someone and it’s going to continue to be a struggle.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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