SOUTH BEND -- The St. Joseph County Council on Tuesday approved a request by the county prosecutor to better compensate more than two dozen mid-level deputy prosecuting attorneys.
The vote was 5-4, with Democrat Mark Catanzarite and Republicans Dale DeVon, Dan Herbster and Mark Root opposed.
As a result of the council's decision, 29 mid-level deputy prosecutors now working in the prosecutor's office will receive a bump in pay, totaling a combined $46,540, effective July 1.
The money will come out of the county general fund.
The effect, county Prosecutor Michael Dvorak said, will be to make those 29 positions more competitive in the public sector in terms of pay and, as a result, reduce turnover in the prosecutor's office.
Between October and March alone, Dvorak said, five mid-level deputy prosecutors left the prosecutor's office for higher-paying jobs elsewhere. Four of the five took other jobs in the public sector, he said.
"I'm not asking for these increases to compete with the private sector, I'm asking to compete with other public sector entities," he said.
"This is an unusual request, mid-year, to increase salaries," DeVon said. "Do you think you would be in jeopardy if we waited until next year for these increases?"
"Yes, I do," Dvorak responded.
DeVon expressed fear that if the council agreed to increase pay in the prosecutor's office "it might open up Pandora's box, that other departments might come forward with (similar requests) now, mid-year."
"The only answer I can give you is that this is a definite public safety issue," Dvorak said, noting that whenever an experienced attorney leaves the prosecutor's office it puts that much more strain on those who remain."
"This directly affects our ability to fight crime in the community," Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mark Roule said, "to keep dangerous people locked up."
"When an experienced prosecutor leaves the office, the bad guys don't give us time to play catch-up," Deputy Prosecutor Amy Cressy, one of the 29 deputy prosecutors targeted in the request, added. "It falls on us who remain to pick up the slack."
DeVon said he understood the need to better compensate the county's deputy prosecutors, but that, in his opinion, matters related to compensation are rightfully addressed during the budget process, not mid-year.
"It's not that I believe that these prosecutors are not worth it; I know they are," he said. "But because of the timing of it, I can't support it."
"I can see the need for the increases in salary," he said, "but it's just a timing issue."
Despite opposition from DeVon and others, Dvorak said he was pleased with the council's decision. "I think I impressed to the majority of the council the need for adequate compensation," he said afterward.
He said he expects the new compensation rates approved Tuesday will become permanent in the 2013 budget, noting, "I would not think that the council members who supported these salaries would attempt to reduce them in the next budget process."
The council next meets at 7 p.m. Aug. 14 inside council chambers on the fourth floor of the County-City Building, 227 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Staff writer Erin Blasko: