Friday, September 13, 2013



One of the major headaches in being a Stark County commissioner is getting Stark County departments of governments to "hold the line" and not "rush out" to spend the "newly available" money provided as a consequence of Stark Countians having voted in a 0.5% sales tax increase in November, 2011.

The Stark County Political Report has embarked on an analysis of whether or not county departments of government are heeding the commissioners' admonition made repeatedly by them in the fall 2012 budget hearings that department heads limit department employee pay increases to no more than 2%. Beyond the 2% factor, The Report looks at a department's overall payroll budget,  2013 compared to 2012.

Readers, in addition to focusing on the 2% factor and the overall payroll numbers, need to keep in mind that salary/wages are 65% of a typical government workers' income. A Cleveland Plain Dealer report published yesterday (Public sector workers make more in salary and benefits than those in private sector, Labor Department says, Olivera Perkins) made the point:
Get a good government job. On average, you'll be paid more than your private sector counterparts, according to employee compensation data released Wednesday by the Labor Department. 
    •  Employees in private industry received an average of $29.11 per hour in total compensation in June. That included $20.47 in salary and $8.64 in benefits. 
    • State and local government workers averaged $42.09 per hour in compensation. That included $27.16 in salary and $14.93 in benefits.
The comparison translates into private industry employees being paid 70% in cash payments and about 30%, on average, in pensions whereas public workers receive their nearly - on average - $13.00 per hour pay advantage 65% in cash and some 35% in benefits.

For the commissioners' office employee overall numbers cited in this blog, readers need to factor up the total payroll numbers 35% to get an accurate picture of actual payroll numbers.  Stark County auditor Alan Harold told the SCRP yesterday that though he has not made an exact computation of the cash payment to benefit payments, his feel for the numbers indicate to him that the 65/35 ratio is pretty much on the mark.

Thirdly, taxpayers should look for staff additions and whether or not they are absolutely needed or merely in the "it would be nice" category when there are more monies made available courtesy of the taxpaying public.

Commissioner Creighton during the campaign to get the sales tax passed, put her fellow county office holders on notice, to wit:

"Right out of the gate" in the budgeting process, Commissioner Creighton and her colleagues were challenged on the 2% cap by a number of department heads.  Predictably, two of them were Stark County prosecutor John Ferrero, Jr. and Stark County recorder Rick Campbell (both favorite county officials of the SCPR).

The Report will get to Ferrero, Campbell, and the remaining department heads in the coming days.

But the place to begin media accountability of "your tax dollars" is with the commissioners themselves.

Take a look.   (Note:  click on the graphic to make it larger)

The Stark County auditor's office has provided the SCPR new data which substantially alters The Report evaluation of the commissioners' "holding the line" and being a good example to other Stark County departments of governments.

At first blush (based on the April data), it appeared to the SCPR that the commissioners have not done all that well in "holding the line" in their overall payroll expenditure increase from 2012 to 2013.

An analysis of the Stark County commissioners payroll deserves and asterisk.

And why an asterisk?

Because they have taken on a significant responsibility from Prosecutor Ferrero's office in their entering into a contract with former prosecutor David Bridenstine who has an expertise that Ferrero apparently cannot match from among the lawyers he currently has on staff.

Obviously, the commissioners have determined that they cannot do without Bridenstine notwithstanding that there has to be someone on Ferrero's staff who could do the work.  Apparently, they do not have confidence that the work would be done at the Bridenstine level of competence.

Bridenstine is limited to earning $65,000 in 2013 according to the commissioners' contract with him.

Beyond the asterisk, (and to The Report chagrin) the commissioners have added to the annual payroll so that now  (as of 09/13/2013) the office is pegged at an increase for 2013 to $796,121.47 from the 2012 number of $652,541:  a 22% increase.

Based on numbers provided by the auditor in April, the commissioners had increased their 2012 cash payroll expenditure of $652,541 to $697,213 (according to information provided the Stark auditor and Chief Administrator Brant Luther) for fiscal year 2013:  a nearly 10% increase overall.

But as the 09/12/2013 numbers show, the 10% was merely a foreshadowing of what was to come.

And, keep in mind that these annual payroll budget numbers do not include fringe benefits which likely boosts the overall numbers by more than a third (i.e. $796,121 becomes $1.07 million and the 2012 number of $652,541 becomes $880,930).

It could be that Bridenstine will not work enough to get up to the $65,000 and, accordingly, the $697,213 straight cash payroll will be adjusted downward.

Included in the projected 22%  overall increase are 2% raises for seven of the department's twelve employees.

The commissioners deserve plaudits for "toeing the line" on their "2% increase.  And they were fair about it.  They gave everyone eligible for an increase the 2%.

Examination of other department's pay scale will determine the fact of the matter, but The Report believes (based on statements (and other reports) made to yours truly that other departments have not distributed pay raises across the board.  Moreover, The Report will be surprised if all department heads heeded the commissioners' recommended cap.  Some of our county department heads are highly egotistic people and "nobody tells them" what to do with regard to the internal operations of their departments.

The SCPR is quite adept at "calling a spade a spade."  If The Report's analysis shows a disregard of the commissioners' cap; readers of the SCPR can be sure that this blog "will lay it out on the table" for all to see.

Returning to the commissioners' 2013 budget number and the Bridenstine factor.

County Administrator Brant Luther questions whether or not Bridenstine counts as against the commissioners' budget.  The Report thinks it does, but as the SCPR always does that other Stark County media hardly ever, if ever, is to allow those with whom yours truly disagrees a full, unfettered opportunity to make his/her case.

Here is what Luther had to say:
All Commissioner's office staff who were here in 2012 (and who remained an employee into 2013), did receive a 2% raise shortly after the 2013 appropriation was approved in March of this year.

The Bridenstine number is wrong [show on the county auditor's report to be $111,280] .  The only thing I can figure is that the number you are showing for David Bridenstine must be an annualized number based on David's previous contract rate of $125 per hour (however that contract was a limited, "not to exceed $20,000 per year" contract).  On July 3, 2013, the Board approved a Contract amendment to lower David's hourly rate to $44.58 per hour and increase the "not to exceed" annual number to $65,000.00.  The Commissioners do provide David with office space to use for County work, and he is available to Commissioners approximately 24 hours per week.  

For efficient payroll administrative purposes, David is listed in the payroll system as an Commissioner's employee, however, he is actually a contract consultant and is not an employee of the Commissioner's office (doesn't receive health benefits etc) and his consulting costs should not be calculated into the Commissioner's office personnel Budget.  To further clarify, if he is working on legal matters involving a revenue or special fund, his salary is reimbursed from that particular fund.  To the extent he is working on strictly general fund matters, his salary is reimbursed from County
The SCPR specifically disagrees with Luther that "his [Bridenstine's] consulting costs should not be calculated into the Commissioner's office personnel Budget."

For the commissioners to allow Ferrero to shift the cost of Bridenstine's specialized work and knowledge off of his dime onto theirs is their doing and therefore The Report, for one, looks at the expenditure as being theirs.  Ferrero benefits from the sales tax having been passed exclusively for the benefit of Stark County's criminal justice system and therefore appears to have gotten away with one.

Ferrero had to know that Bridenstine was contemplating retirement and for him as the manager-in-chief of the prosecutor staff to allow a void in quality of representation on Bridenstine's specialized work - post-Bridenstine - is just more evidence that Ferrero does a very poor job of managing his office.

Prior SCPR blogs have scored Ferrero for his "less that superlative" managerial skills.

Had the commissioners not let Ferrero get away with having a Bridenstine-esque expertise void with his retirement, their 2013 spending would be $632,213 which is some $20,000 under the 2012 expenditure of $652,541.

Absent the taking on of the  Bridenstine contract, and, perhaps, the paring down of  the adding $90,000 plus to the county commissioners's payroll numbers  (see Nicholson and Nichols material below) would deserve a rating of A+ and thereby be a clear case of leading by example.

And to carry this topic on just a little futher and how much Ferrero's management deficiencies cost county taxpayers, the SCPR is planning a series on how much money Stark County's townships and boards of education spend on legal fees hiring private counsel.

If it were anyone but John Ferrero sitting as prosecutor, the SCPR would be in favor of a system that the Stark County sheriff's uses in providing policing services to townships (e.g. Plain and Canton townships).

For the money that is available on a contract basis, the Stark County prosecutor's office should be able to put together "one whale of a" legal team to represent township and boards of education interests.

However, while John Ferrero occupies the prosecutor's office; such an idea is a non-starter!

Back to the commissioners and how they fare on The Report's 2012/2013 budget expenditure analysis.

In addition the Bridenstine add on, the commissioners have brought on an administrative assistant (Nicholson) at $32,500 annually and a director of management and budget (Nichols) at $68,000.

While the SCPR does believe that the commissioners' office was understaffed during the Mike Hanke as chief administrator era, the addition of Bridenstine, Nicholson and Nichols appears to be overkill in the opposite direction.

The administrative assistant hire was absolutely needed in the opinion of yours truly.

But was a "big ticket" $68,000 (Nichols) addition (plus a projected post-probationary increase) really needed?

Chief Administrator Brant Luther received a 10% hike over what his predecessor Mike Hanke was making.

What was the justification for giving the new administrator that kind of pay increase?

Why didn't the commissioners insist that Prosecutor Ferrero provide a viable alternative to Bridenstine?

In the original blog, the SCPR evaluated that because of the Bridenstine matter, the commissioners come in at a SCPR grade of a B-.

With the addition of data showing the Nicholson and Nichols hire (which yours truly had overlooked in focusing too much on the April data), the SCPR lowers the commissioners grade to C-.

A C- is hardly a grade that the commissioners can take any pride in and clearly does not set any kind of example for the remaining Stark County departments of government.

It could be that the 2013 22% commissioners' office increased payroll budgeting is a harbinger of a much more to come in The Report's analysis of increases (both in terms of wage increases and total volume of employees) in other Stark County departments of government.

Commissioner Creighton's statement as set forth above in this blog surely will be put to the test in the mind of Stark County taxpayers and the actual performance of county officials comes to light.

To the SCPR, it is not likely that those numbers from other Stark County departments of government are going to present a pretty picture.

It has to be a bitter pill for private sector employees/taxpayers to swallow that "on average" they are paid less both in terms of base compensation and fringe benefits and to a see public employment increase (while, perhaps, justifiable but hardly a demonstration of a focus on efficiency) with some receiving raises that exceed what is going on in entrepreneurial America these days.

Taxpayers need to monitor what happens to increased tax dollars once they are approved.

And The Report is your window into Stark County government.

The SCPR's next analysis will be on the Stark County auditor's office.

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