The Lebanon County Commissioners set salaries Monday at a special meeting for a number of row officers elected in 2023 and who will begin their four-year terms in 2024.
At the meeting, which is required by county code, Commissioner Chairman Robert Phillips read the following statement:
“Per a requirement of the county code, the commissioners conducted a special meeting to set salaries for elected officials who take office in 2024. These offices are the county commissioner’s, controller, treasurer, prothonotary, recorder of deeds, and coroner. At the last special public meeting in 2020, the commissioners voted to set the salaries for the sheriff and register of wills at 2 percent increase or CPI (consumer price index), whichever is the lesser, for the term of 2022 through 2025.”
Phillips noted this meeting was to set the salaries for the aforementioned positions whose terms in office run Jan. 1, 2024 through Dec. 31, 2027.
Lebanon County Commissioners have set salaries in this manner since 2016 when the 2018 to 2021 row office salaries were set, according to Daily News archives.
After Phillips asked for a motion on the proposal, there was a moment or two of silence until Commissioner Mike Kuhn posed a question. This was Kuhn’s first such meeting following the death of Commissioner Bill Ames who passed away last December.
“Does anyone have any reason why we wouldn’t go by the same standard of practice in the past? Kuhn asked fellow commissioners Phillips and Jo Ellen Litz, to which she responded, “It’s an option we can do.”
Commissioner Mike Kuhn made a motion to adopt the recommendation of a 2 percent salary increase or CPI, whichever is the lesser, for those four-year terms that run through the end of 2027.
After the motion was seconded, Phillips opened the floor to questions. County Recorder of Deeds Dawn M. Blauch asked if the rate increase would lead to county taxes going up. (Blauch’s salary would also increase under the proposal.)
“I have no idea,” said Robert Phillips. “That’s baiting us. How would we know?”
Blauch said she thought maybe the commissioners had that figured out already, to which Phillips replied, “Oh my gosh. We’re trying to get through this year. We can’t have any idea of what impact – but it’s gonna cost money, obviously, to do it, and money comes from the taxpayers…
“The simple math is, it is new money and it is taxpayer money, so the answer is it’s going to have an impact but I don’t know that this will trigger a tax increase. That’s too far out and has too many variables,” Phillips added.
Blauch’s line of questioning may signify a continuation of last year’s unrest within the county GOP, when Blauch presented a letter to the commissioners prior to passage of an 18 percent tax increase, with 65 members of the county’s Republican party as signatories strongly opposing the proposed tax increase for the 2022 tax year.
County Treasurer Sallie A. Neuin asked whether Lebanon County was set to become a fourth class county instead of a fifth class county, which would most likely lead to salary increases for elected officials since there would be more residents paying into county coffers.
Fourth-class counties are those with a population of 145,000 to 209,000 while fifth-class counties are 90,000 to 144,999 people. Lebanon County’s population was 143,247, according to data from the 2020 United States Census.
Litz told her that the county has to go through another census and have an increase in population over the threshold or at least remain constant with the same number as the previous count.
Neuin followed up Litz’s answer by noting that Lebanon County would be the lowest wage payer of the seven fourth-class counties in Pennsylvania, but added that she understands why that is the case.
Litz said that salary increases have to occur to keep staff from earning more than their bosses but added that “Lebanon County is a conservative county that doesn’t like to go to extremes.”
Phillips noted that there are no easy answers to attracting talent while trying to hold the line on spending.
“We want to attract people who are component in their jobs, but, on the other hand, there’s the question right there about taxes,” said Phillips. “That’s the pushback that we’ll get… It’s like anything else, you have to pay for it if you want to do it and this is modest. I mean, a 2 percent (increase) in an inflation economy of 10 percent. No one can argue that this is excessive and I believe I can defend it very easily.”
Following public comments, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the 2 percent increase through 2027.
After the meeting, commissioners Litz and Kuhn both indicated they are considering running for reelection since all three commissioner seats will be up for election in 2023. Phillips said he’s contemplating a run for re-election but plans to meet with his team first before announcing a decision.
Salaries for two other elected offices, specifically county judges and the district attorney, are set by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, according to Commissioner Litz, so the commissioners have no control on how much those positions are paid.
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