All county employees received a 3% pay increase in accordance with last year's budget. It was the first pay increase for county employees in several years. The current average salary of the county's 29 "mid-level" attorneys is about $51,000.
According to Dvorak, the county maintains a 100-bed correctional facility. Because of that, the state pays St. Joseph County $58,536 for one Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. Dvorak says that is an indication of what the state feels a prosecutor in a county of this size is worth. 24 of the 29 prosecutors he is seeking raises for make less than that.
"It will become a crisis when I don't have deputy prosecutors that have the skill level to match the defense attorney on the other side of the courtroom," said Dvorak.
But county officials say this is not the time to ask for more money. The County Council passed the request last week by a narrow margin: 5 in favor and 4 against. Dale DeVon voted against it.
"I think if we are going to do it. We have a process, a budget process, and we need to do it at that time and not in mid-season," said DeVon.
DeVon says there are a lot of department heads with similar arguments, but they have ample opportunity to make these requests during the normal budget process, not in the middle of the year when the county doesn't yet know how much revenue it will have. Others say the 2013 budget process begins this week -- Dvorak should bring this request up during budget negotiations.
THE FLIP SIDE:
"You have to pay them to keep them," says Berrien County Prosecutor Art Cotter.
Cotter says Berrien County had a turnover problem in the 90s, similar to what St. Joseph County is facing now. He says the prosecutor at the time, Dennis M. Wiley, fought for and won a "pay scale step ladder" for assistant prosecutors. Cotter says that made the county more competitive and has ultimately helped them put criminals behind bars.
"If a loved one of yours was murdered, if your house was broken in, if you were viciously assaulted, wouldn't you want the best attorney that I could get for you to go in and represent your case in court so justice was done to the person who did it to you?," asked Cotter. "It is as simple as that."
Commissioners Consider the Issue:
The issue will land on the County Commissioner's desk this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. As of now, it is looking like commissioners could veto the request.
Commissioner Andy Kostielney said he, "traditionally has not looked favorably on across the board pay increases in the middle of a budget year."
Commissioner Bob Kovach referred to his vote for last year's Sheriff's Department request that deputies receive a 5% raise when all other county employees were only getting a 3% raise. Kovach voted no.
Dave Thomas indicated he would be the sole "yes" vote saying "if a bridge breaks you don't close off the road and wait until budget time. There are emergency needs that need to be addressed."
If the Commissioners do veto the request, it will go back to the council for another vote. The council can override the Commissioners with a 6 to 3 vote.