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Walter fighting for the People of Luzerne County

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Walter Griffith in the News

$2M in county jobs on books ‘an oversight’
The failure to eliminate the furloughed/vacant positions to be rectified soon, says Petrilla.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes jandes@timesleader.com Luzerne County Reporter

A hastily prepared Luzerne County Salary Board meeting Tuesday left the impression that judges are piling on hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries for court employees.

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What was missing, officials later discovered, was the official Salary Board elimination of $2 million in jobs that had been vacant or filled by furloughed workers.

President Judge Chester Muroski said the judges won’t fill any of those jobs, and he’s willing to make it official through a Salary Board vote. The board votes on all job creations and eliminations and sets the pay for non-union positions.

Salary Board member Maryanne Petrilla, who is county commissioner chairwoman, said the failure to eliminate the furloughed/vacant jobs was an oversight that will be rectified as soon as possible. She said she pushed judges to present an official staffing plan for Salary Board approval because all court positions were supposed to be ratified in January.

Commissioners Greg Skrepenak and Stephen A. Urban voted against several job creations Tuesday because of the added cost, salary amounts and use of salary ranges. The county has been getting away from the use of ranges because it allows departments to increase pay without being forced to appear before the salary board.

For example, Urban and Skrepenak opposed the court’s proposal to create 17 probation positions with combined pay ranging from $687,800 to $807,900 because the agenda only showed the elimination of four positions with salaries totaling $205,574.

Skrepenak said the agenda, as presented, showed no savings, and he said it’s “absolutely disappointing” that the agenda was released a half hour before the meeting.

Urban pointed to the court’s request to change a $30,729-a-year salary for an executive secretary to a range of $35,000 to $50,000.

“Our sitting commissioners get $42,000. Are you telling me a secretary has more work than a commissioner?” Urban said, noting that he hired his executive assistant at $35,000.

Muroski said he believes commissioners are underpaid and stressed that judges have complied with the county’s request to cut $2 million from the county budget.

Petrilla, acting Controller A.J. Martinelli and Muroski voted for all the job changes.

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, taxpayer Walter Griffith challenged the legality of allowing court administrator Jack Mulroy to vote in Muroski’s place. The three commissioners and county controller always get a vote, while the president judge and row officers get a fifth vote on positions in their departments. Muroski ended up appearing to vote.

Urban and Skrepenak voted against a $3,000 pay for temporary election board members. Urban said he doesn’t believe commissioners had to relinquish the seats just because the home rule study commission question is on the ballot. Skrepenak said he couldn’t find evidence that past temporary board members were paid.

It’s unclear what will happen because the vote was tied, with Petrilla and acting controller A.J. Martinelli voting yes. Muroski did not get a vote on the election matter.