St. Joseph County Prosecutor Mike Dvorak calls it a public safety issue ... losing too many deputy prosecutors because they aren't paid enough. That's why he's asking for raises for his 29 deputies.
Five deputies resigned in the last five months and four went to other public sector jobs. Dvorak said they're leaving because those other jobs pay better.
Dvorak is asking for $46,000 for the second half of this year and $93,000 annually, starting with the 2013 budget.
Last week county council members OK'd Dvorak's request. Wednesday, county commissioners vetoed the request. Commissioners Andy Kostielney and Bob Kovach say they can't justify the raises at this point in time. Commissioner Dave Thomas was the lone vote for the raises.
All county employees, including deputy prosecutors, were given a 3 percent raise earlier this year. Police officers received a 5 percent raise.
Dvorak's fight for more money isn't over. The county council could override the commissioner's veto, but at least one council member will have to have a change of heart. Last week the council voted 5 to 4 to approve those raises. It all comes down to these 9 men.
In August, county council members will have the final say on the pay increase decision for deputy prosectors.
"We have a little time in between before we vote and there’s always the possibility that any one councilman could change his mind before the vote," said Council President Rafael Morton.
Here's how it's panning out now: Last week, five councilmen were in favor of the raises ... Mike Hamann (District A), Rafael Morton (District D), Robert McCahill (District H), Corey Nolan (District B) and Mike Kruk (Distrcit E).
Four councilmen opposed the raises: Dale DeVon (District C), Dan Herbster (District F), Mark Catanzarite (District G) and Mark Root (District I).
When WSBT asked councilmen Wednesday afternoon on their stance ... not much of a change. One must change their mind to get the 6 to 3 majority needed to move forward with the request.
"I’m hopeful a couple more councilmen will recognize the merit to this,” said Dvorak. “I'm not asking it for myself. I’m asking it for the talented attorneys to stay in our office and not go to Marshall, Porter, LaPorte county, or Berrien Springs or Indy, where we've lost them to."
Morton said keeping and attracting talented prosecutors comes with a price. "I felt that the prosecutor had a extremely compelling argument based on the fact that he's lost a very high number of deputy prosecutors over the past 5 years."
Other councilmen aren't 100 percent on board.
"I’m not against the raise, but the timing of the raise,” said Councilman Mark Catanzarite. He will vote against the raises, nothing he's uncomfortable with a mid-year pay increase ... but isn't ruling out the possibility of approving a raise for next year.
"The morale of the employees will be affected by this and I wish Prosecutor Dvoark would have waited to present this," he said.
WSBT Fact Finder glance
- Starting pay for a deputy prosecutor in St. Joseph County is $45,000. With the top level pay in the low $70,000 range. Keep in mind that consists of 29 deputy prosecutors in St. Joe County.
- In Elkhart County, there are 21 deputy prosecutors. Starting salary is $47,000; top salary in the high $70,000s.
- Berrien County employs 17 deputy prosecutors. Starting salary is $48,000; top pay level is $86,000.