Greene County Prosecutor David Powell told the county council that granting a sizable pay increase to his deputy prosecutor is essential to retaining good, talented, qualified attorneys not only for his staff, but future prosecutor teams.
The discussion is not a new one between the council and the prosecutor. It's been ongoing for about three years.
The council listened at length Monday afternoon while Powell made a plea to pass a salary ordinance agreement that would grant his six-year deputy prosecutor Jarrod Holtsclaw a pay hike that could potentially bring his pay to about $60,000 annually.
He currently earns about $48,000 a year.
In the end, the prosecutor asked the council to consider his proposal to stop the endless "revolving door" of deputies who have been trained in his office only to leave those jobs and go to higher paying positions in private firms or other public law office.
"Once we train a good trial lawyer, we ought to try and keep them," he said. "We need to retain our good people."
He continued, "Here's the problem we are going to have long-term if we don't deal with how to keep these people around. Jarrod has been with us about six years now. He's highly trained and very competent in what he does and he is certainty worth a great deal more outside of the office than what we pay him. That's the issue for the county. If we do not take care of the problem, I think what you are going to see is a revolving door here every two or three years."
The prosecutor said essentially every deputy he has lost in the past left the position to join a firm that paid them substantially more than they earned from the county.
"I don't know if Jarrod will stay or not. I know he is thinking about other plans," Powell said.
He pointed out that training lawyers fresh out of law school is expensive for the county both in terms of trial preparation and courtroom success. It has been Powell's experience that a more qualified and seasoned attorney is able to get cases settled "out of court" saving the county money in the long run.
"We as the county can follow the pack and wait for the state to say we're going to mandate these (pay) numbers or we in Greene County can say we recognize the need keep trained advocates that are representing the community and are willing to pay them to keep them. We're not asking for huge numbers. Ultimately, this ordinance if it is approved as written will result in about $60,000 a year in salary," Powell said. "If I were to advertise that job, if he would leave, I'm not sure at the current pay scale I could hire anybody. I know I can't find anybody with his qualifications. It would be a fresh recruit out of law school where we would have two years of training and six months where they don't do much more than watch."
He continued, "It's always aggravating to train people and get good, quality people to represent you and our community and then not be able to keep them."
The prosecutor said Holtsclaw has a heavy caseload ---- handling nearly all of the misdemeanor and felony drug-related cases. Last year, he worked 124 felony cases, of which were 111 drug felonies and an additional 59 misdemeanor drug cases. He pointed out that Holtsclaw has been effective ---- taking just one drug case to a costly jury trial in the last year.
His caseload is continuing to increase with 33 new methamphetamine-related drug cases filed since Jan. 1.
As a solution, Powell asked the council to enact a salary ordinance that would provide some continuity in the pay scale by establishing a base salary payable out of the general fund and include an incentive fund with the monies derived from two offender user funds which could be granted every two years at the discretion of the prosecutor.
Under terms of the proposed agreement, the deputy prosecutor would be paid $41,000 out of the general fund with up to a $5,000 increase allowed every two years at the discretion of the prosecutor. Under the plan, a deputy could attain a salary that would be 90 percent of the chief deputy prosecutor's pay, which is set by the state legislature.
Powell said, "We created a way to reward folks for their longevity and their service and pay that out of non-general fund revenues at the discretion of the prosecutor."
Powell said granting the pay hike by enacting the ordinance would not result in a raise in taxes. The discretionary part of the salary would come from offender user fees from the Infraction Deferral and Pre-Trial Diversion funds.
"I'm the last person that would ever ask you to raise taxes. I've always believed the offenders should have to pay for as much of this as possible. That is what these programs do. All I am asking you for is the discretion to reward employees who work hard. I'm asking you to have the courage to make a decision that might not be popular in the rest of this building (the courthouse)," he stated.
Powell had hopes of having the issue settled "once and for all" instead the matter was tabled until after an executive session discussion planned prior to next month's regular meeting on Monday, March 29.
Council member Brent Murray said he understood the need to pay talented people well to keep them, but said he felt defending a $60,000 salary for a deputy prosecutor would be a difficult action to defend in the eyes of the public ---- especially with the tough economic times the county is now facing.
"I understand what you are saying. I really do, but I understand 99 percent of the business owners in this county are facing the same problem. If the money is not there, the money is not there," Murray said.
Powell interjected, "Money is not an issue here. I have the money available."
Murray responded, "It is an issue. You're saying having the courage to give it and I understand that, but I also know what's going to happen with the other 200 employees in this county. There is a difference between courage and doing the right thing."
Last September, the council stopped short of granting a similar request from Powell because it had announced that no county workers would be granted raises in the 2004 budget.
Powell explained that his 2004 prosecutor's budget was "essentially the same" as a year ago, except for his request to raise the salary of Holtsclaw, who made $47,652 in the 2003 budget.
The prosecutor asked the council to hike Holtsclaw's salary another $12,000 to $59,652. The prosecutor proposed to "make up" the $12,000 request from the two user-based fund accounts over which he has discretionary control ---- $6,000 from the Infraction Deferral and $6,000 from the Pre-Trial Diversion funds.