Lebanon County Commissioners hired a new warden for the county prison on Thursday by a 2-0 vote with one member abstaining due to familial relations.
Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz voted to abstain because Tina Litz is her husband’s cousin. Commissioners Robert Phillips and William Ames voted to hire Tina, who is being promoted from within, at an annual salary of $85,000.
All three commissioners cited her as the “best qualified candidate” from the pool of 14 applicants who applied for the job.
“We had a very good pool of candidates and especially so with the internal pool at the jail, so we’re proud of that,” said Phillips. “But we’re very happy with the selection of Tina and she’ll have the whole support of the commissioners and the staff as she moves into that position.”
It was noted that Tina has worked for the county in various positions for about 25 years, beginning around 1996. Her current position, which pays her an annual salary of nearly $65,000, is as deputy warden of treatment in the drug and alcohol program at the county prison.
Commissioner Ames concurred with Phillips that she was the best person for the job, adding that she was “very enthusiastic and interviewed very well.”
“I, too, wanted to comment that we had, as commissioners, a difficult task to make a selection here, especially good qualified candidates from inside and that we also considered some folks from outside our present employment,” said Ames. “I just think it’s unfortunate that we can’t have a 3-0 vote in favor of Tina because all three of us know that she is the best candidate.”
Phillips added that “it’s a wonderful thing” when the county is able to promote a qualified candidate from within its current pool of employees. Her first day as warden will be Monday, February 8.
Commissioner Litz said she abstained from the vote because she did not want to give any appearance of a conflict of interest.
“That being said, I will concur that my colleagues made an excellent choice,” said Commissioner Litz. “During the interviews, as Commissioner Ames said, she came across extremely positive and capable and I think she will make an excellent warden.”
Jamie Wolgemuth, Chief Clerk/County Administrator, said that one-third to about one-half of the applicants for the job are current county employees.
In other county business, the commissioners voted 2-1 to hire Korn Ferry, a Los Angeles-based management consulting firm, at a rate of $92,000 to conduct a salary study.
The study will compare the salaries and benefits for all county employees as well as Grade in Step entry-level positions to those for employees in neighboring counties of a similar size.
“Ultimately, it is about retention and recruiting and where we stand comparatively,” said Wolgemuth, in highlighting the reasons for conducting the study.
In answering a question from Commissioner Litz about implementation of the study findings, Wolgemuth said the study may conclude that Lebanon County is “good” and no further action may be necessary. He added that whatever steps are potentially implemented are at the discretion of the county commissioners.
In voting to approve the salary study, Commissioner Phillips listed several reasons, including the time that’s passed since the last one was conducted.
“I voted in favor of it because I feel like we have so many requests for exceptions to meet the market in terms of recruitment and we have high turnover in some areas,” Phillips said. “So I feel like it is a necessary step after 22 years to take a look.”
Commissioner Litz voted yes to proceed, citing the need to have “an outside source look at it in a professional manner so the commissioners can receive advice and sound reasoning that is sorely needed.”
Commissioner Ames voted no because he did not agree with one of Commissioner Phillips’s assessments.
“I think it is overly optimistic that we’re going to spend $100,000 on a salary study and that the special requests are going to stop,” Ames said. “I think we all know that is not going to happen. I think we’ve worked through this well. We field the requests, we check with other Class 5 counties and other surrounding counties to see where their salaries are, and I think our HR folks have done an incredible job of matching salaries to the positions. I look at it as $100,000 that we could save.”
In another matter, the commissioners did vote unanimously to refuse a request from Grace Point Church in Palmyra to forgive back taxes it owes the county for land, located at 740 Leon Avenue, that was removed last July from the Clean and Green program.
The property, which had been purchased by the church in 2016, was leased to a farmer but that ended last year when the church developed the land. Since it was developed, it was removed from Clean and Green, which is a preferential tax assessment program that bases property taxes on use values rather than fair market values.
Although state law allows local officials to forgive the taxes, the commissioners voted to hold the church responsible for the $4,900 owed to county coffers.
A reason the commissioners voted to require the church to pay the taxes became clear later in the meeting.
The commissioners all agreed to send to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture the annual certification of county funds, totaling nearly $291,000, for monies available for farmland preservation in Lebanon County in 2021.
The funding sources include $216,500 from various entities (local municipal governments and the county’s General Fund donations and Act 13 allocations); $1,336 from interest; and rollback tax penalties from Clean and Green violations in the amount of $72,231.
“In light of the fact that we just voted on a request to waive those rollback fees and the interest [on them], it’s important to note, and as Jamie did indicate, that a significant amount comes from the interest and rollback fees,” Commissioner Ames said. “When we entered the Clean and Green program we designated that those monies would continue to go towards farmland preservation, and I think it is important to note that as well.”
Commissioner Phillips said the commissioners are proud that Lebanon County is number one in the amount of land preserved in the commonwealth of the seven county governments who are rated Class 5. Class 5 counties are those with populations of between 90,000 to 144,999 residents.
“It reflects well on the agricultural commitment that Lebanon County has and shows that we’re committed to the preservation of farmland,” Phillips said.
After it was announced that Lebanon County is close to passing the 20,000-acre preservation threshold, Commissioner Litz said that’s a significant milestone that should be celebrated.
“I’m so happy that we are going to hit that 20,000-acre milestone…” Litz said. “We’re the breadbasket of America, and we take that title seriously.”
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